The quickest way to make a dull screenplay is to focus solely on the hero. Today’s screenplays need multiple stories so that way multiple characters can change over time. In “The Boxtrolls,” a clay animation movie that was nominated for an Oscar in the animation category, the hero is a boy raised by trolls, so of course he changes. In a bad movie, that’s all that changes, which is why “Maleficent” was such a mediocre movie despite Angelina Jolie’s presence.
Here’s a list of all the characters in “The Boxtrolls” who change over the course of the story:
- The hero goes from an orphan who thinks he’s a box troll to a boy who finds his father
- The father goes from being an inventor to a prisoner, back to rediscovering himself as an inventor and father again
- The kindly trolls go from being feared as monsters to being accepted as friends by the townspeople
- A little girl goes from being ignored by her father to being accepted by her father
- Her father goes from ignoring his daughter to actually being proud of his daughter
- Two of the villain’s henchmen go from helping the villain to fighting the villain
- The trolls go from hiding in fear to taking control of their own destiny
With so many changes going on, it’s easy to stay engaged in the story as you see the gradual shift in all the characters over time. In mediocre movies like “Maleficent,” all you see is the hero changing and even then the movie simply throws scenes at us with little sense of story structure. Throwing multiple scenes at an audience is about as exciting as reading a legal document full of facts. Information alone doesn’t make an interesting story. Knowing how to withhold information and tease the audience by holding them in suspense is what makes an interesting story.
What’s more important than having multiple characters change is that they all change in the same way. In “The Boxtrolls,” the hero learns who he is and all the other characters also learn who they are as well. Every character pursues similar goals. If they don’t, you’re basically telling two completely different stories. Imagine if in “Star Wars” we followed Luke but then Hans Solo suddenly went off on another story about building his confidence to fight in a martial arts tournament like “The Karate Kid.” Suddenly you’d have conflicting and non-supporting stories that interfere with each other and confuse the audience.
The other alternative is just to focus solely on the hero so the other characters seem little more than cardboard characters who exist just to help the hero. You want your hero to change and you want your other characters to change in the same way. That’s what makes an interesting story.