Character or plot. Which comes first?
Some say character prevails, others say it’s a chicken and egg thing. But … how do you define a character?
In film, you can only reveal what a character is about by showing its actions.
Dialogue doesn’t work, because it sounds false, ‘on the nose’. As a matter of fact: characters often say exactly the opposite of what they mean until the Ordeal / Plot Point 2.
The character camp may say: you need to know the character before you can give it reactions to plot.
Well, do you?
Or is this plotting exactly how you find out about your character? I believe the latter.
To get to know your character, you imagine events and situations, then you imagine how the character will respond. You don’t know your character until you have gone through this process. It is the response to a number of meaningful situations that will fully define the true character.
So, first you need to design the situations and responses.
And if you want to create character transformation, the nature of those responses changes over the course of the movie. Moreover: those changes have to be laid out in a particular way over the course of the story, or the audience won’t get it.
Breaking news: you have just created PLOT. Story structure.
Because the audience is conditioned by all the movies they’ve seen before, this story design cannot be random. The audience has an expectation, based on the structure of movies from their viewing history.
Only a very small share of the audience is willing to enjoy challenging structures.
Even this small audience keeps shrinking. Less and less producers, financiers, distributors and exhibitors are willing to take the risk.
To ignore this fact is not a good career decision under the current climate. To tell people they can ignore this fact is really sabotaging their careers.
Character is defined by actions. Actions are shown in a structured way: plot.
Therefore, you need plot in order to express character. Q.E.D.
If you don’t understand the structural principles that govern in the creation of the plot, your film will fail. Always? No. Only in 99.9% of the cases.
So feel free to ignore the structural principles.
In the same way, how do you define a tribe?
A tribe is defined by its rituals. They are the collection of structured actions the tribe performs. Structured, because they happen in the same order under the same circumstances.
Stray from the exact order in which the rituals are performed and the tribe will be confused.
A movie is a ritual with an inherent structure.
The audience expects you to respect this.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.