Learn How to Create Engaging Characters by Watching Independent Films

Way too many writers focus on creating interesting action and fantastic worlds in a science fiction or fantasy setting. The problem is that no great movie can succeed without great characters. Therefore if you want to write a great screenplay, forget about all the fancy eye-candy of special effects and stunts, and just start with great characters.

Watch any great movie and you’ll notice that it always includes great characters struggling to achieve a meaningful goal and then reaching it in one way or another. “Titanic” isn’t just about a woman trying to survive the sinking of an ocean liner, but about a woman trying to develop the courage to live her own life.

“The Shawshank Redemption” isn’t just about a man trying to get out of prison but about a man who never gives up hope. At the heart of every great movie is really a strong character pursuing an inspiring and meaningful goal.

To better understand how to create appealing characters, watch low-budget, independent films that have garnered great reviews. Such low-budget, independent films can’t afford A-list movie stars, car crashes, or massive explosions so they must focus solely on grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention by giving us likable characters pursuing seemingly impossible but meaningful goals.

In the independent films “Sing Street,” a teenager falls in love with a beautiful girl but is too afraid to talk to her. To get to know her, he decides ask if she’ll perform in his music video for his band. The catch is that he doesn’t have a band.

The movie focuses on this likable hero (who gets bullied in school) pursuing a pretty girl while creating a band so he has an excuse to talk to her. By studying independent films like “Sing Street,” you can better understand how to create appealing characters in your own story who pursue goals that we want him or her to achieve.

Independent films often work precisely because they make an ordinary world seem magical in some way. In “Sing Street,” the ordinary world involves an Irish teenager living in Ireland. There’s nothing inherently interesting or exciting in that, but his pursuit of a girl by forming a band is what makes the story appealing.

In comparison, watch a lousy big-budget movie like “Mortal Engines” or “The 355” and you’ll see that they focus exclusively on special effects and action instead of character development and story. No amount of technical eye candy can make a lousy story better, a lesson that Hollywood fails to understand time and time again.

So learn character development and story telling by studying from the best low-budget, independent films. You may be surprised that with a strong character and intriguing story, you may not need any special effects, car crashes, or A-list movie stars at all.

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