It’s Always About the Characters

The biggest mistake writers can make is to try to come up with an original story. That’s nearly impossible because there are few stories and just variations of these few stories. Don’t try to be original in creating a story. Be original in creating the characters in your story.

The difference lies in trying to create an original story compared to trying to create original characters. “Rocky” is simply an underdog story that’s been retold in “Creed.” Then “Rocky IV” has been retold as “Creed II.”

What makes “Rocky IV” different from “Creed II” isn’t the story but the characters. The story (plot) is identical. The hero goes to fight a Russian boxer who killed someone the hero knows. We already know how the story is going to turn out. The hero will win. The suspense doesn’t lie in the story outline but in the character development, and that’s what makes a story original.

Every romantic comedy from “While You Were Sleeping” to “The Proposal” follows the same story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl (or just reverse the gender if the hero is a woman). What’s different is who the characters are and what they want.

If you’re writing a romantic comedy, you already know the story. Now you have to create original characters who have compelling problems that an audience will want to see them solve. You aren’t trying to create an original story. You’re trying to create original characters within a familiar story.

“Alien” was pitched as “Jaws in space.” “Under Siege” was pitched as “Die Hard on a battleship.” There are no original stories but there will always be original characters. Look at how Quentin Tarantino creates original characters based on revenge. “Kill Bill” was about a woman getting revenge on the people who tried to kill her. “Django: Unchained” was about a slave getting revenge on a slave owner who mistreated his wife. Karate, action movies are often based on revenge, but “Kill Bill” and “Django: Unchained” tell those revenge stories in interesting ways.

If you’re stuck on your story, simply look at the genre of your story and find a similar movie. Then borrow the plot except fit it in with your own unique characters. That will insure you have a solid story and focus on your characters being original. If you do that, you’ll create a far more interesting story than if you focus on plot alone.

Characters need to be original. Story (plot) is always unoriginal. Keep those two separate and you’ll always have a guideline for helping you write a great screenplay.

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