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The following exercises help you work out your movie in more depth.

1. Complications

2. Backstory

3. Motivation

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1. Complications 

If you're like me, ideas are probably springing to mind, so before going on, use this box to jot them down. These include:

>> any twists in your story (e.g., femme fatale's sister is also her daughter, girl is really a guy, you're actually on Mars), and

>> any obstacles your main character will face (e.g., amnesia, an ingenious flesh-eating bad guy, a daring escape across Mt. Rushmore).

You will undoubtedly change these later, but you may as well clear your brain.

2. Backstory - What happened in the past to make your character behave as they do?

- Batman saves innocent people. Why? Because he couldn't save his parents. He wants to redeem himself.

- Dorothy dreams about killing a witch. Why? Because a mean old woman stole her dog. She wants revenge.

- Elliot helps ET. Why? Because his parents ignore him. He wants love.

- Lt. Kaffee prosecutes Col. Jessup. Why? Because his father didn't believe in him. He wants to prove himself.

Okay, so The Wizard of Oz isn't only a revenge movie. The point is, there should be something driving your main character's actions. He or she must have a history in order to make them seem real. This step helps enormously in knowing what decisions your character will make down the road.

Use the format above - I've included some prompts to help you.

3. Motivation: What does your main character WANT?

If you've done the previous excersise correctly, you should have a good idea what your character wants.

To put it another way, what are they IN WANT OF? What do they lack, the achievement of which will make them happy?

This is a difficult but key question. Some common motivators include:

1) love
2) self esteem (dignity, to prove oneself)
3) to right past wrongs (to redeem oneself)
4) to survive, or escape
5) justice
6) revenge

A clear motivation keeps the audience invested in your movie, eager to know the outcome. It gives you something to put obstacles in front of. And most importantly, it helps you decide which plot events are right and which ones will lead you astray.

The motivation can change or be compounded as the character learns new information, but as in all things, the simpler the better. Also, set up your motivation as early in the script as possible. It's the reason people keep watching.


Note: If your movie has two main characters, what they want should ultimately be the same thing. In Thelma and Louise, both women want to escape their dreary lives (and succeed, ironically).

Ok, let's check it out!

Option A:  Click the button below. This gives you an easy to cut-and-paste form containing what you typed in above. However, it also sends a copy to me so I can track how the site is being used. I delete all messages sent this way - I'm not in this to steal anything. But if you're not comfortable with this, use Option B.

Option B: Cut and paste what you've entered above into a word processor, but don't click the button.

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Copyright 2010, Mitch Moldofsky, All rights reserved

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