giving characters more depth



No announcement yet.
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #16

    name another



    • #17
      hey kojled,

      i wasn't being flippant or discounting your advice, which is nearly always rock solid.

      actually, let me rephrase. i think your statement (quoted above) was just a little general.

      i would suggest that things such as quirks and physical attributes or injuries, for example, can add depth to character.

      a character that bites her fingernails when she's stressed. the guy that counsels prisoners who takes off his shirt to reveal a gunshot scar, even though it's never mentioned in dialogue.

      the reason i qualified my statement is that one could contend that this IS back story, and that's a valid argument.

      however, i think your statement "the (only) way to give characters more depth is through backstory/motivation" neglects that nuance.



      • #18
        hey william

        no, did not neglect that nuance (in fact i had anticipated this argument). such ticks do not add depth to a character, they add color. a tick, or a quirk, as you call it, is superficial (by definition). what is superficial can't be considered to add depth. what i'm talking about when i say depth is core, or maybe soul, perhaps foundation. if you think ticks like biting fingernails add depth, fine. this would make it an argument of semantics - let's not go there - nobody would win. you think quirks add depth, i think they add color. so be it

        however, when you say my statement is 'just a little general', i take exception. it's beyond general. beyond all encompasing. let's face it - it smacks of being a principal of screenwriting

        ps - my advice is 'nearly always rock solid'? nearly? now, that's a low blow - just kidding, thanks. i nearly always look forward to your comments ;-)


        • #19
          good post.


          • #20
            Zilla is actually right - - back story/motivation is the foundation of a character's depth, the other suggestions, mine included, build upon that. Without it, the rest would lay on a shaky foundation. Or, we end up with a stereotype for the leads and in a rom-com, stereotypes can get boring.

            In my humble not-yet-a-pro-opinion of course.


            • #21

              thanks for asking such a good question. i thought iâ€TMd offer some support of my contention that motivation/backstory is the only way to add depth to a characterâ€TMs core. it is, after all, quite a sweeping statement. i want to make clear that what Iâ€TMm talking about is character depth, core, or maybe foundation, not arc, definition, or progression

              i'm going with doctor frederick chilton from silence of the lambs. sotl is arguably the best of the genre. nothing on its level has been done since. the writer of sotl, ted tally, won an oscar as did jody foster and anthony hopkins. so, this script is sure to offer us properly structured characters to analyse

              before i start i want to ask a question: what is dr. chilton's function in sotl? what does he do? this leads to another question: why is any of chilton's backstory and motivation important? how does it affect the plot? the answer to these questions will illustrate how important it is to properly set up a character

              dr. chilton is the administrator of the facility for the criminally insane at which hannibal lector is imprisoned. clarice starling is sent to this facility to interview lector. therefore, she must first deal with chilton. i'll start with that meeting

              chilton: manicured, perfect hair high maintenance hair, he uses an expensive gold pen when a $2 pen would suffice. he has a perfect but false smile.

              his office: very expensively appointed. has lilacs lit by spotlights. has a demoralizing view: an alley and a brick wall. he has a name tag on his desk should the person he is speaking to forget who he is

              first wide shot of chilton shows: his relaxed posture - to communicate his nonchalant character. his clothes: three piece suit with a lilac tie set against a vanilla shirt, with matching lilac colored, perfectly folded and fluffed silk handkerchief. all perfectly accessorized by a gold chain for his pocket watch

              and his left hand: held up next to his face in an elegant way. why? well, to look refined to be sure, but also to put his hand on display - there is no wedding ring. see?

              the first thing chilton says: refers to hannibal as property - self-aggrandizing himself as administrator. the next thing he says: a painfully clumsy come on - inviting clarice to tour baltimore with him, as it can be an exciting town at night if 'you have the right guide'

              what we know about chilton so far?

              1) he spends a lot of effort on his looks. why? to attract women. he is lonely. he is not married

              2) he sees nothing wrong with hitting on someone young enough to be his daughter. in fact, he probably is only comfortable pursuing women who are much less experienced than him

              3) he appoints his office elegantly despite the fact the facility is an asylum for the criminally insane and any visitor would be a law or medical professional not the least interested in chilton on a personal level

              4) he has low self-esteem both as a professional and as a man. he seeks advancement both professionally and with women. he compensates for his insecurity with affectation

              not all of this is objective, but it's all fair. we have a wealth of information about this character. chilton has been on screen for about two minutes - backstory must be relevant to the character and the needs of the story and must be delivered in an economical way, preferably without too much dialogue: that is, show don't tell.

              chilton and clarice leave his office. chilton walks very quickly and often is in front of clarice. this shows he is an important man with no time to waste. it also reiterates his lack of respect for clarice. he speaks down to her, talks quickly. he spits the rules for seeing hannibal: don't give him pens or staples, etc. it's not a conversation - it's verbal sparring. why the change of character? clarice has rejected his offer to go out socially (this revelation in character is used to further describe chilton's backstory). he punctuates his lack of respect for her by suggesting she was sent because she is a young woman, to 'turn him on'. 'boy, are you ever his taste', he says - a viscious double entendre considering the sexual/cannibal implications.

              dr. chilton's backstory has been established. all within a few minutes

              what does it matter? what difference does it make what kind of man he is? who cares? it matters because it leads to motivation. who the character is will determine what type of catalyst they are likely to react to and what kind of action they are liable to undertake as a result. the combination of a fully developed backstory and the motivation it yields creates a realistic character whose behavior is believable, and emotionally compelling.

              chilton's backstory manifests itself later, when clarice visits hannibal again. dr. chilton protests, saying, 'i am not just some turnkey'. this crystalizes his character: he is a small man who takes offense at having his inflated authority usurped by a young fbi trainee, who is a woman to boot. this combination of backstory and circumstance have led to a situation in which chilton is compelled to act. this is known as motivation - a reason to act. the introduction of clarice into chilton's life has undermined his carefully controlled existence and threatens to remove from him his prized possession and the prestige that goes with it: hannibal lector. so what does he do to stop this? he bugs hannibal's cell and listens to their conversation.

              he then reports to the senator (whose daughter has been kidnapped) that a fake deal in her name has been presented to hannibal by clarice. the senator gets mad, demands the fbi and clarice be taken off the case, and that dr. chilton be put in charge. chilton then cuts his deal with hannibal, who agrees but with the stipulation that he will only reveal the killer's identity to the senator herself.

              while he is in hannibal's cell cutting this deal, chilton forgets his pen (probably because he was drunk with the idea of a big promotion and winning the senator's favor)

              they fly hannibal to see the senator. hannibal is held in a cell that is not nearly as secure as the one at the asylum. he uses a part of the pen chilton forgot to pick the lock on his handcuffs. this enables him to escape.

              and, this is the answer to the question asked earlier: why is any of chilton's backstory and motivation important? how does it affect the plot? it's important because the pen hannibal uses represents chilton's character and his motivation, in that: if chilton wasn't so insecure he would not have bugged the cell, learned of the fake deal the fbi used to entice hannibal to tell them about the killer. he also would not have been so taken with the idea that, after his deal with hannibal, he might get the professional advancement he wanted, that he would forget the pen, leaving it for hannibal to utilize for escape.

              dr. chilton facilitates hannibalâ€TMs escape. iâ€TMll bet not many people could tell you this even if sotl is one of their favorite movies. hannibalâ€TMs escape, in turn, leads to chiltonâ€TMs death. chiltonâ€TMs vanity and insecurity are the cause of his own destruction. nicely turned

              all of this functions to establish a character's core, soul, foundation, so that we will be able to accept their actions as reasonable and compelling. without such backstory and motivation, characters are cardboard cutouts whose actions ring hollow. m/b is the only method to accomplish this. people argue that there are other ways, but what they cite is arc, definition, or progression of character, not the character's depth of personality

              motivation has its roots in backstory. the personality defined by backstory will react in a given manner to a given catalyst: motivation and the action that results. this action serves the plot in a way that is believable

              whether you call it the character's depth, soul, foundation, core, or whatever, backstory/motivation is the only method for establishing a character's personality, and therefore, reason for taking action. this, in turn, will indicate the character's reason for existence in the story, determine how their actions will affect the plot, and whether these actions are believable

              dr. chilton is a perfect case study of motivation/backstory



              • #22
                Excellent example of backstory/motivation, kojled.



                • #23
                  Zilla your talking about impartial actions, instead of personality.

                  What I saw in the movie and when I read the book is this,

                  He's a black and white opinionated man, meaning he does everything by the book. He's not insecure at all, if anything he's over confident... that's he biggest mistake, he thinks he's smarter than Hannibal and that he's in control of him.

                  When he asks Clarice out, it more a reactionary action, he lets down his guard and acts human for a second. He lets his light side out for a second, then snaps right back to the person in control.

                  That's why I think Hannibal likes her so much, it's her control over all these people and he know he can manipulate her. Overall so he can manipulate the system

                  Dr. Frederick Chilton: Crawford is very clever, isn't he, using you?
                  Clarice Starling: What do you mean, sir?
                  Dr. Frederick Chilton: A pretty young woman to turn him on. I don't believe Lecter's even seen a woman in eight years. And oh, are you ever his taste. So to speak

                  (but everyone in the movie seems to want her, from the Jack Crawford who gives her the big shot, to Hannibal wanting her but respecting her too much, notice Barney the security guard is the guy she always â€thanksâ€, maybe cause heâ€TMs the only one that respects her)

                  Chiltonâ€TMs role, IMHFO, is the turn key for Hannibal. Basically he represents how "the system has no rules that apply to someone like Hannibal "(I think that's the quote from the film) and basic theme demonstrated in the film, and â€Look, I am not just some turn-key, Miss Starling.â€

                  I did agree with some of your points but felt a little differently about his role in the film, or why Harris "chose" a character like him. And Iâ€TMve herd other people make these points about the film.


                  • #24

                    another source to refer to occured to me: the 10th anniversary edition dvd of 'heat'. the commentary by director michael mann is almost exclusively concerned with character not movie making technique like most commentary.

                    mann's character prep is well-known. what he concerns himself with mostly is backstory and how that sets up motivation. he devotes a great deal of energy to this. this commentary track is worth a listen


                    could be



                    • #25
                      This has be a very interesting thread, reinforcing things I thought I knew and helping me learn others. BTW, the original script in question has garnered additional interest (with no mention of "depth" issues), so I'll have to sit tight and see what the overall feedback is. Meanwhile, I've gained additional insight into character development that will no doubt benefit all my writing. Thank you all for your time and contributions, and most especially the encouragement.


                      • #26

                        I may have forgot to mention that you made some great points. like WEY said, interesting... and you got me thinking