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Old 02-09-2012, 08:52 AM   #1
SundownInRetreat
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Default Injecting heart and likeability

Hi all, another thread that I hope will be beneficial to others.

How do you inject heart and likeability into your characters?

This partly builds on the "plot first, theme second thread" where ATB made good points about heart and partly because there are so many films out there where the criticisms are that the movie/characters didn't have heart. The advice "make your characters likeable" is much like "build rapport with your customer" in that it sounds obvious but it's hard to pin down how to do it.

And this has become particularly important to me as I've veered off the action and horror track into rom com territory so whilst I plod along, I figured now would be a good time to bring it up.

So how? The obvious route is to have the character do something nice: rescue a cat, help an old lady, run a charity but that alone doesn't constitute heart and many films use these tropes but still fall flat.

Is it as simple as have your character save the cat, to make us like them, and then run them through the grinder, where we see them rally - like Rocky - and thus see they have heart? Then again, Up didn't do this yet no one can deny the film, and Carl had much heart and likeability - long before he even got chased by Muntz and his dogs.

Thoughts?

Last edited by SundownInRetreat : 02-09-2012 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:03 PM   #2
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Forgive me, but it seems like a lot of these questions can be reduced to "How can we meet Blake Snyder's stringent framework for a good screenplay?"

Make your characters compelling (not necessarily likable), put them in interesting situations, put parts of yourself or others you know into them, give them unique foibles you've observed in daily life, make them act in a logical but occasionally unpredictable manner.

The idea that you can put a "save the cat" scene on page 5, then dust your hands and say "well, that's the likability part sorted" is ludicrous.

Every scene should inject heart into your characters otherwise they would be dead.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:07 PM   #3
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

I'm not so sure heart and likability go hand-in-hand.

Example: Groundhog Day.

The protag, Phil Connors, is an egocentric a$$hole. We're rooting against him for at least half the film.

But the story is also full of heart. So, no... you don't have to have a likable protag to give your story heart.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:20 PM   #4
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Watch movies that have despicable lead characters....Scarface, for example.

The guy is a drug addict, drug dealer, murderer, he's vile, lewd, profane...the list goes on and on providing reasons why nobody would ever want to be around this guy.

However, we also see that he is very family-oriented, cares deeply about his sister, provides for his mother without question, will not harm children, follows his dreams no matter what it takes, and when he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank.

Those positive traits are stronger in Tony Montana than they are in most of the nicest characters ever put to screen! And it's because of those positive traits that allows us to see past the negative ones and root for and like that character.


It's all about positive traits. At least one is needed. We need that one trait to build the trust between that character and the audience - us. We need to trust that this character are not a bad person, but actually a hero.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:31 PM   #5
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Make them human.

I think it's sort of like how Horoscopes can "capture" us in their web and make us think... that's so me.

That's what we have to do with our characters. Make them unique to their story, but an everyman to the audience.

Fun little trick. Easier said than done, I know.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:43 PM   #6
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

I'm anti "must make character likeable" or even "must have characters with positive traits"

I think if your character is sufficiently interesting; no matter how vile, negative, and unlikeable they may be, people will watch.

Focus on making them interesting and not boring.

Yes, interest can be generated by making them easy to relate to, or likeable. But there are many other ways to generate interest.

Have your characters do things that cause attention. Otherwise they're boring.
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:04 PM   #7
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhodi View Post
Forgive me, but it seems like a lot of these questions can be reduced to "How can we meet Blake Snyder's stringent framework for a good screenplay?"

The idea that you can put a "save the cat" scene on page 5, then dust your hands and say "well, that's the likability part sorted" is ludicrous.
You're assuming. And wrong. Nothing about Blake Snyder or formula.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ATB View Post
I'm not so sure heart and likability go hand-in-hand.

But the story is also full of heart. So, no... you don't have to have a likable protag to give your story heart.
Yeah, I know. For the most I was talking about likeablity and heart as two individual elements (but enquiring about both at the same time - apologies for any confusion). My comment about Carl is the one where I combine the two as I feel both are present in him.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Biohazard View Post
Those positive traits are stronger in Tony Montana than they are in most of the nicest characters ever put to screen! And it's because of those positive traits that allows us to see past the negative ones and root for and like that character.
Good points. I'd go further. I'd say likeability is achieved whenever we empathise with someone - even if they're up to no good. The Phillip Seymour Hoffman character in Boogie Nights, for example, does some fairly creepy things but we empathise with him. Same goes for the kids in American Pie and Superbad even though their actions were often obnoxious and would be scumbag characters in another film.

There's also sincerity to these characters - even when it's about getting their girlfriends into bed or buying alcohol. None were devious or insidious but were actually full of good intentions (to be liked - P S Hoffman, becomig men - American Pie, getting girls to like them - Superbad).

Now a lot of films have such characters but not heart - although I think to a lrage degree there has to be a sense of sincerity about the film as a whole (not just a character) in order for it to have heart. IMO, Notting Hill has fantastic heart whereas I don't get the same vibe from 10 Things I Hate About You (which I love, BTW) or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Runaway Bride, Management and many other rom coms.

Away from rom com, Rocky, Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Bambi, E.T., The Lion King have great heart too. But is it just a case of the underdog? I don't think so as there's movies with underdogs that don't have heart - such as D.A.R.Y.L and WarGamed (I dig them both) and the E.T knock off, Mac and Me
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:08 PM   #8
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
You're assuming. And wrong. Nothing about Blake Snyder or formula.
I don't think it's a coincidence that you used a "save the cat" example twice in your question, or that you have another thread where you are fretting about a 33-page first act.

Do yourself and your writing a favor: Forget Blake Snyder.
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:11 PM   #9
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhodi View Post
I don't think it's a coincidence that you used a "save the cat" example twice in your question, or that you have another thread where you are fretting about a 33-page first act.

Do yourself and your writing a favor: Forget Blake Snyder.
People see what they want to see. It's okay to assume, we all do it, but it's arrogance to continue to insist being right when told the truth.

PS: The 33 page Act I thing is, as I noted, to do with one of the "myths of screenwriting" - not a Snyder reference. Now, let's keep the topic on track
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:17 PM   #10
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Default Re: Injecting heart and likeability

Sundowner,

I think he's saying: forget the rules, just write your story.

No "save the cat" moments. No 25%, 50%, 25% for each act. No rules.

Just write.

Then, if you read it all back to yourself and you think, "This is a piece of grade-A dogsh1t." Well, then maybe assemble your own rules based on where you think your weaknesses are.
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