How to connect your CHARACTERS with the PLOT in such a way that your THEME is conveyed?

Think of a character as a tension point between a perceived virtue and a latent flaw. Need an example? Sure!

Take for example the virtue of being kind. Now, let’s say that a character is too kind, maybe in all of those selfless acts of virtue they’re really hiding a latent aversion for conflict.

So, for a plot to work with these character traits, we need to construct the plot beats in such a way that each time the character faces an obstacle, the tension between being kind and actually being conflict averse is triggered.

Maybe we place the character in such a situation that their kindness puts them directly in the face of conflict. Take this for example, a kind person who offers himself to help others and in doing so gets sucked into a situation where he has to face a huge conflict he’s trying to avoid.

Voilà! You have a story there!

In a well-constructed story, the plot will always initiate a latent change found in the tension between a virtue and a character’s flaw. You might ask, why does this happen? Well, reality is that people are often moved by their virtues as they see them as the proper way of behaving. And by proper way of behaving, I refer mostly to the best possible ways of achieving their goals and desires.

In a sense, people and characters create their own plotlines and derive personal meaning from them.

Theme = Why

Plot = How                                       Change is produced.

Character = Who

All of the plot beats and their construction has to be a reflection of the theme you’re using, just because the actions triggered and executed in it are about testing the character into approaching the thematic premise, expressed as a truth, right?

Now, ask yourself…

Why must your character endure the plot to learn this particular theme?

Does the plot facilitate the character’s arc that proves the theme?

By those two questions, what we’re really talking is about an external conflict becoming a metaphor for an inner conflict. So, the internal conflict beats (comprising the character’s arc) must somehow provide the protagonist with a changed mindset which will make them choose in a different way every time (evolving). These different ways of choosing will then affect or trigger the next external event (plot).

(Plot)                                                                                                            (Theme)

Obstacle                                           Inner conflict                                  Choice

                                                           (Character)

In the schematic above, we can see how an initial obstacle sends the character into an inner conflict that will reflect in a new choice, that will eventually lead to a new obstacle and so on…

Okay! There’s so much more to talk about in the relations between theme, plot and characters. Next time we’ll dive into the creation and analysis of the antagonist, in relation with the theme and all of the elements we’ve been discussing so far.

Using THEME to build CHARACTERS and how doing it this way can greatly IMPROVE your overall understanding of the CONFLICT.

As we were discussing before, a theme is an argument between two posited ideas, a TRUTH and a LIE. And so, a thematic premise has two opposite sides:

  • A truth that must be discovered.
  • And a lie that is believed.

Discovered and believed by whom you might ask, aren’t you a smart individual, eh? Well, obviously we’re talking about the protagonist of the story, right?

You remember when we talked about needs and wants? Think about it like this:

  • Truth = Need.
  • Lie= Want.

Most of the time, a protagonist enters the plot because they believe some lie that is expressed as a desire or want, they think they need this obviously wrong thing to be happier or to take revenge or whatever egotistic idea you can come up with. Yet in reality, what they really need is to get a sense of a deeper truth they can’t initially see.

This truth has the power to make them change in profound ways.

A character’s conflict with others or with the world of the story is almost inevitably a reflection and/or a projection of inner conflicts. In other words, the plot reflects/projects the character’s inner struggle upon an external world. Also, lies and truths will often translate into literal objects, persons or states within the external plot.

The most obvious translation would be the lie, which inevitably becomes the seed of the antagonist.

But what is this inner struggle of the character through the lens of the theme?

Is actually the tension between the two previously mentioned aspects:

  • The thing the character wants (the lie).
  • The thing the character needs (the truth).

And the clash between these two aspects creates the conflict.

Ultimately, what the character wants is the plot goal (external), and is not necessarily a bad thing all together, more so it represents a negative mindset or motivation regarding a problem or way of living.

This lie the protagonist believes is what prevents them from moving towards health, constantly pushing them back, making them sick.

But what is this lie and why the character even believes it?

This is because at the root of it there’s a ghost from the character’s past. Remember what ghost is? Simply put… TRAUMA!

Ghost —- Lie (believed) —- Desire —- Rising action —- Plot Goal

                   Psych. Flaw      (abstract      (Variations            Need (Truth).

                                              or concrete)  of Theme)

In the schematic above, we can see how the ghost or trauma makes the character believe a lie that throws them into the plot because of their desires, then facing rising action that expresses many variations on the theme being conveyed and ending in the plot goal or objective, where the truth the character needs to grow is expressed.

So, the protagonist’s final choice in the story is between what they want and what they need and it will mostly be externalized in a metaphor that proves a corresponding choice between the lie and the truth.

Isn’t that amazing! Next time we’ll dive deeper into character creation utilizing our chosen theme, until then…

How to recognize/find/build the THEME of your story and why it might be the single most IMPORTANT part of your script.

As an invisible force guiding every movement of creation, Theme might stand as the most important aspect of any artistic creation, at least of the ones that move beyond the initial and mostly blind exploratory impulse of creation and into the realms of metaphoric elaboration.

I’m not even joking here.

Think of theme as the symbolic argument between a posited truth and a lie, two opposing aspects of some idea that will play out in the characters arcs and throughout an external plot, which in turn will force characters growth.

You did it? Then guess what… you’re entering theme’s dominion.

Generally speaking, theme is an uniform idea or subject, explored via recurring patterns and expanded through comparisons and contrast. remember the symbolic argument stuff?

As it stands and in any story, ultimately, plot and characters are a visual representation of an underlying theme, both presenting variations on this subject. In a sense, theme is the story’s essence, boiled down into a single and concise statement.

You can use it as the guiding principle for your entire story.

So, how can you find the theme of a story? even your own, because if you were not thinking about it while writing, chances are a theme is sitting there, between your characters and events, waiting to be discovered by you.

Look for the truth at the heart of any prominent character change within the plot. Then, identify any underlying topics or recurring motifs repeated throughout your plot and characters decisions. But take special notice of the ending of your story, because this is where ultimately the theme is expressed or revealed as a truth discovered or accepted by the protagonist (often called a self-revelation).

This truth is often called the thematic point, once discovered, you can play it back against everything that happened in previously in the plot and characters development, ideally you will see it resonate in every scene, if not you should strive for it to happen.

Think about it this way, a story can be understood as a large scale metaphor about made up people going on made up adventures which create descriptive metaphors for real life.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the differences between using and finding a theme for your story.

If we start a story from a theme, we can actually mold the plot and characters into a visual and external metaphor for an invisible theme. But if we don’t, let’s say we started with character or plot, the idea is not to construct a metaphor, rather discover one inside our story. In this case, we should look within the existing/evolving plot to identify the emerging theme.

Its almost impossible not to find a recurring and inherent theme inside the plot of a story, yet it also emerges from the characters. Think a little about it… what do they have in common? You can look at individual scenes, story events... what patterns are emerging? Can you see an overall shape?

In summary; You can’t have a proper story without people (characters) doing stuff (plot) – which together, inevitably comment upon reality (theme).

Next time we’ll dive deeper into this amazing element of story!

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Hard times are a tough thing to live by, we all know this. Also, these challenges of life may seem hurtful and beyond our own comprehension because of our own weaknesses, so there has to be a proportion between the hard times and our own inability to live through them, right? I’m sensing that Manchester by the Sea is talking to us about this idea. How often crisis hits our life and becomes a problem just because of us not being prepared to face it. Further on, how many times it is us who create the crisis because of our own problems and weaknesses. The initial sequence of the movie presents us a familiar town engulfed in the first winter snows, a metaphor cleverly crafted to reflect a story about a man, who escaped family, only to come back unwillingly to it because of a winter situation (a hard time), the death of his brother, who happened to be the head of the clan.

Will our protagonist rise to the occasion, reclaiming the throne of the tribe, or will he succumb to the fears and desires of a lonely, but ultimately safe life alone?

The answer lies somewhere in between, as all good movies land, because of one major factor expressed in the self revelation that clarifies the movie’s purpose for all of us.

But first, what’s the movie about? Well, it’s about this guy, Lee Chandler, who is accidentally responsible for the death of his two little daughters, after having a boys meeting in his house until late at night, fighting his then current wife Randi, and going to buy some beers after the party ends, expressing his irresponsible behavior, only to comeback and find his house on fire due to his own idea of lighting the logs because of winter. So, this accident prompts him into suicidal tendencies that are mitigated by his idea of leaving his home town, where now everyone believes he’s a douchebag, enclosing himself in a lonely and guilt driven life until receiving a call about his brother’s death.

Now, this call forces him back into the town where everyone believes he’s a piece of shit, right? the last place he wants to be in. And in this place he will have to face the fact that he really is a piece of shit, because let’s face it, he was a terrible father, an irresponsible and promiscuous person who was not ready at all to have kids. We can even argue that he didn’t want to either, because wanting to have sex all the time doesn’t mean a person wants to have children. And now, coming back into town he has to face the fact that his brother has leave him with the custody of Patrick, his nephew, who’s in fact the same as him!

So, ultimately the movie is about becoming a father figure, how an irresponsible person learns to stablish boundaries on a kid while accepting their own past mistakes, changing from a like them all type of person into a real adult, one that can actually articulate in a relax manner the things they believe in, the way things should be, and ultimately come into the realization of a hard truth, that he’s not ready to be a father, paradoxically this truth being the foundational stone of his change into being a father figure.

Should you watch Manchester by the Sea? I would say watch it if you want to learn or reflect upon reality and adulthood, about taking control and responsibility for your own life and follow through in a better way of being, a meaningful being.

A little talk about WANTS and NEEDS to create characters with stronger MOTIVATION and DESIRE.

We’ve heard this like a thousand times in writing, specially when receiving feedback from others, even more so when those others are Pro type people maybe even inclined to be a bit on the “dick” side of things, right? Okay, maybe they only want to help us, no need to be so defensive.

What does your character want?

Have you ever wondered why is this question so repetitive and so important? I mean, why do we even need to know what a character wants, maybe they don’t want anything, you know… like depressive people and stuff… We’d be wrong btw…

As it turns out, people and characters always want something, whether it’s some basic need like food or shelter and up to the craziest of human endeavors, like saving the universe! So, first I want to share with you a list of possible answers to this very question, kinda like to flip it over from What does your character want? to What can your character want?

From the individual (only for itself) to the community (for everyone), it would be like this:

  • To survive.
  • To take revenge.
  • To win the battle.
  • To achieve something.
  • To explore a world.
  • To catch a criminal.
  • To find the truth.
  • To gain love.
  • To bring justice and/or freedom.
  • To save the republic.
  • To save the world.

Many things a character may want as it seems, can you think of any other?

Thing is, to understand the want of a character is to understand their motivation. What is the driving force making them move?

But, if we have stablished that what a character wants drives his motivation, what is the purpose of thinking in a desire line? Aren’t them the same? Well, why are you asking such complicated questions? Are you a detective or something? Let’s say you’re one, just for the sake of understanding, okay?

So, maybe you want to catch the criminal, right? That’s your want, your motivation for moving your fat ass (filled with donuts and cheap coffee) into action. But maybe, as you go deep into the investigation, you come to realize that the killer is your little baby, turns out it’s a devil’s acolyte, a demon, for the non-initiated.

Okay, so what do we have here?

Conflicting wishes.

The motivation line is to catch the criminal. But the desire line is to protect your family.

Isn’t that wonderful? Now you have a compelling story about a self-righteous detective who wants to uphold the law, yet can’t go against their baby, finding that their true desire is to protect family. What will they do?

I guess it would also depend on another aspect of the character development, their NEED. So, what is this need thing? Well, in simple lame terms it is overcoming a flaw inherent in their personality.

To think about it in a clear way, let’s assume that the detective was self-righteous because of a family environment where no one respected each other. To cope with this, they decide to go the other way, to prove a difference, to separate from the pain that such environment causes.

So, our protagonist follows the law by the book, straying even a bit from it causes immense anguish and anxiety, preventing them to dive into the reality of the world inhabited, cause we all know that the criminal world goes way beyond what the law says, right? Okay, so the idea in here is for us to choose a powerful inciting incident that forces the character out of the law and into the other side, expressed as the fears coming from that past not resolved, the no respect environment, where not only do the character gets no respect (maybe by losing the protection of the batch) but also where they have to be disrespectful themselves to pull through and survive.

Now, why would they NEED to go through such an ordeal? Because it seems that this is the only way to resolve their flaw, by addressing it in an external situation which is comprised by the world of the story and the antagonism.

SO, to end the idea, the character needs to overcome (or succumb if you’re a dick writer) their flaws… and you know what’s the funniest thing? Is the desire to pursuit a goal which prompts the character into a story where they face those flaws in order to complete a quest, and so a story is unfolded.

Isn’t that crazy?

Wolf (2021)

I wish I was one of those cool people that can say “Man, this movie reminded me of The Lobster”… The Lobster… you know? that hyped movie everyone seem to be praising some time ago? The return of that actor, what was his name? Penguin guy from the new Batman movies. Anyway, I’ve only seen like 45 minutes of The Lobster… It was so boring!!! But you know what? This movie reminded me of it! Maybe I’m one of those cool people! Don’t mind me… and forget about the freakin’ lobster, this movie is better, I swear. For once, we’re not dealing with soulless individuals, in here we can actually relate to the characters and the whole premise is so weird, yet familiar… I encourage you to watch it, forget about the old classics and such, embrace this movie about a bunch of people that have “Species Identity Disorder”, a bunch of dumbasses who believe they’re animals in a clinic specializing in curing them, I swear… this is what is all about!

So, what’s the movie about? Well, let’s start from the top, shall we? Is about this boy, this youngster that believes he’s a wolf and his parents take him into this facility where people who believe they’re animals are treated. Now, what’s interesting here is that this treatment consist in trying to resist the impulse of being an animal. Sounds weird, I know, but let me explain, okay? The protagonist has this urge to howl, you know, as a wolf. In the beginning of the story he makes such an effort to not do this, as he clearly sees what happens to those who behave like animals. Long story short, they’re treated in violent ways. There’s this guy, the antagonist of the movie, Mr. Mann, who treats the patients with aggressiveness, believing that this animal identity they’re using is no more than a childish defense mechanism implemented not to deal with the external world, often a byproduct of past trauma. So, Mr. Mann, or the Zookeeper, forces the patients to prove they’re animals by making them do animal stuff… they fail of course.

Okay, but what about our protagonist? Well, he can only hold for so long his wolf impulses and when he can no longer behave like human, he descends into his animal form strongly, becoming more and more like he’s supposed to be, until no punishment or chains can hold his true nature, because to him he really is a wolf trapped in a human body. Can you see the parallels here? c’mon! we can make all kinds of bridges between this idea and the current state of liberation about sexual identity in the entire world, right? At least I feel that what the director/writer was aiming at with the idea. What struck me as something interesting about the movie is that the protagonist himself seems not to have such a human side, so this part of the narrative is reflected upon his love interest, a woman who believes she’s a cat or something like that. Not important because she’s not like him, she doesn’t truly believe she’s a cat, okay okay maybe I’m being too hard right now. What I’m talking about is that she prefers to stay trapped because she’s afraid of what could happen to her on the outside world, a fear imposed upon her by her own mother (implicitly).

In the end… well, I prefer not to say anything about that. What I do want to say is that it seems so crazy to me that this movie has such low score on IMDB, I mean what the hell is wrong with people! For some time I’ve been feeling that movies are so boring nowadays, they always explore the same nonsense and in the same binary status quo way, and here comes this strange take on love, the body, the mind, the experience of living and so many things, a movie that can actually make you feel stuff… and what happens? 5.9 score? Give me a break!

Matrix Resurrections (2021)

When facing the new instalment of a franchise we often hear questions the likes of “is it necessary” to have it. Necessary seems like a stretch to me, do we “need” movies at all? like water, food or breathable air? Probably not. So, for me the question of The Matrix Resurrections is not about if it was necessary to make it or not, the movie exists, it’s here. Questioning the existence of something doesn’t make it go away, doesn’t change it either, even if the movie itself, in this case, tries to answer this very thing. Thing is, this movie has a lot of philosophy involved and clever storytelling techniques (at least over the first part of it) yet all the charm and style, art and honesty, felt in the first one isn’t in here, we can barely feel the characters with nostalgia and the movie itself satirizes about it. I mean, what are we supposed to do when watching a movie? should we be meta analyzing every aspect, every single emotion it triggers on us? constantly devoiding ourselves from the emotions that compose our lives in an attempt at staying “in control”? I understand the need to talk about the way the world seems to work and all that nihilistic bullshit, yet I don’t believe that has to come at the expense of telling a good story, and is in here where Matrix Resurrections fails and kinda betrays itself and its legacy.

I mean c’mon! and by the way, why the fuck Keanu Reeves doesn’t change his looks in any movie he’s a part of, I don’t know if I’m watching Neo or John Wick… WTF? Where the hell did all the characterization artists go? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, cause cinematography and stylistically speaking, this must be one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time. I’m being honest here and you know, there’s gonna be people saying that is intentional, cause the movie self references itself many times and stuff. Like there’s a scene where a bunch of stereotype people are talking about what the matrix represents, but kind of mocking the whole thing. Where the hell did all of this cynicism come from? Doesn’t make any sense to me, was The Matrix so bad that even the director of the movie felt the need to destroy the whole idea just to convey the fact that production companies want to make money? They’re production companies! that’s what they do!

To me, only a rich bubble type of person would argue the idea of profit, and you can’t fuckin’ blame the guys paying for the stuff to be worried about returns, I mean c’mon! And why the fuck am I even defending corporations in a Matrix Resurrections review? Cause there’s something inherently wrong about the conceptions of what the world is, right? Humans are not good, okay? we have to make a big, big effort to be morally adequate, at best! And movies help us do this, they show us the path to purge ourselves from pain and suffering, which accumulated lead us to cause pain on others. And yes, in a sense Matrix Resurrections does this, it remind us or even reaffirm us about ways of seeing the world, partially because of rescuing the idea of bonding, which is a concept that is so lost in a world where people are growing accustomed to be paid attention, yet not to pay attention to others.

I don’t know… There’s nothing wrong with the movie, just that it feels cheaper and in a smaller scale to previous installments. It feels like a tv adaptation of the original trilogy and that’s it I guess. All the philosophy is conveyed here in expository dialogue and it just doesn’t work for me, doesn’t have the charm, doesn’t grab my interest in the same way. So, back to the need thing from the beginning? no, this movie was not necessary, it would have been better to just make a new movie with these ideas and probably it would have been better to give it also to a new artist who were bringing a new perspective and sensibilities to the table. So I praise Lana Wachowski for butchering her own baby to stop corporations from prostituting the idea into the future, maybe it’s better to kill a baby than to watch it being raped time and time again… what do you think? (also forget all about this dumb review!).