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4 Key Concepts To Achieve Depth In Your Story

Many scripts take us to the deepest corners of a character, whereas other scripts allow us to amplify the story’s universe.

A script can be seen as a tridimensional space.

  • Duration: the time your story takes to develop (scenes, pages, minutes).
  • Depth: how much we work the character’s backstory or premise (main characters, supporting characters and subplots).
  • Spaciousness: the potential for your story to lever on events and interactions so it can grow further from what’s written (historical context, fictitious technologies, dynamics between characters).

In this article, we’re going to focus on the concept of spaciousness as a motor to develop your story creatively.

Assign your characters to a certain period

If your premise doesn’t depend on historical periods, imagine changing the period your characters are in. Things like access to technology (mobile phones, Internet, communication devices) can create interesting obstacles which can add tension to the story and determination to your characters.

The Conjuring [2013] can be considered a very classic genre film. But when we move their characters into a different decade where new technologies come into play, it gives the story a different texture. On the contrary, BBC’s Sherlock(2010) does completely the opposite, confronting a classic character with social media and modern criminology.

It can sound crazy to doubt the foundations of a story when we force it to float between decades or universes. But, doing this exercise will give you reassurance with your story, which will help develop exactly where and when it has to happen.

Define interactions after actions

Don’t let that a list of events is the only thing which makes the story advance. Not all characters act equally between each other. The power hierarchy, backgrounds, and situations make a character not respond in the same way in front of different interactions. You can make your main character not get along with another character to show he has a more manipulative personality than the other one. There’s plenty of other examples. The only golden rule is that all must be a means to make advance the story. An example I really like is the one used in Terminator 2 [1991] when Sarah Connor decides to go to Mexico and visit the people who trained her. During the whole film, we don’t see her lowering her guard not one second. All she thinks about is to escape. Giving characters these kinds of shades allows us to empathize with them.

In this case, Mexico is established as a contemplative space and a change of rhythm which is totally justified in the script. There’s where Sarah Connor realizes she has to stop Judgement Day. It is not a gratuitous pause.

If you feel your character lacks soul, make him come across another character that will allow the audience to understand that it actually has one. As long as it is needed to make that statement, obviously.

Spend a day in the universe of your characters

Once you have a clear idea where your characters are and how they interact with each other, imagine the obstacles they might have to face. All the Harry Potter saga is a rehearsal of seven years about everything that can go wrong in high school (a magic one, that is).

But more than imagining, this last part is meant to be for research. Whatever it is you write, there’s always going to be someone who will know more on the subject than you. Ask the experts on the subject you want to explore; which are their fears or obstacles they have to deal with every day.

Patrick Rothfuss, writer of the fantasy novel, The name of the wind, came to Barcelona some years ago. In the conference he gave, he talked about how he had a lot of knowledge about the technical aspects of the workings of the universe of the book. He talked about having a clear idea of how tax, product prices, and purchasing power worked within the character’s world. He had a very clear and specific idea about all of that, but that information never got to the book.

Understanding context allows you to learn about the reach of the power and goodwill of your characters. In an interview, George R.R. Martin responded to the question about what he didn’t like of the first season of Game of Thrones. His answer was the scene where Robert goes hunting and is wounded by a wild boar. In his own words, he said, “the king doesn’t go hunting like that”. According to George, the king hunts on horseback, with tents, wine and it is a whole journey. This event is not told in the story of the books, but George knows the reality and customs of his characters.

Remember everything you have learned

You need to separate investigation from the facts of your story and fiction. Having small bios on your characters sometimes can be worse than actually help you in your story. You can end up having loads of notes on the eye color of your main character, his favorite food, and tone of voice, but if these notes don’t get to the script, they do not exist. Be organized.

After exploring, investigating and contemplating, the most important still remains: writing your story. These key pieces help you give the project production value. If every sequence is well informed, programmed and justified, your script will go only forward with each page.

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