What makes a good story?
The main goal of this project (and the past few lessons), is to learn how to create real, believable characters that carry weight, and that are engaging and likeable enough for the audience to want to know their stories.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt from the classes on character so far:
- To be able to write good characters, there must be character development beforehand. That creates character identity and make their stories interesting and believable.
- For the audience to be interested enough to follow the film from start to end, characters must be, to a certain degree, likeable.
- Supporting characters are used to illuminate the main characters. This can be done through their actions and dialogue.
- A good story usually follows a character through a character arc. the character goes through a change from one mental state to another.
- A good story must be cohesive in the way it delivers it’s message. Everything that happens must happen for a reason and point the story towards it’s central themes.
To prepare for this project, I did further research on dialogue in storytelling, and here’s what i found.
What makes good dialogue?
The video above analyses how exactly dialogue is designed in storytelling. I found it extremely helpful while working on this project. Here’s what I’ve gathered from it.
- Dialogue is to used reveal character.
- Dialogue should tell the goals of the characters, their relationships, most importantly the kind of people they are.
- Dialogue allows audience to understand characters more by trying to decipher what they are trying to say.
- Action is character. Dialogue is a result of character.
- Dialogue is a reaction to character: Action, Reaction.
- Dialogue should slowly crescendo and punctuate it with a climax that changes everything.
- Conflict is key. Without conflict, there is no story.
- Subtext – the intentions for every line said. Distinction between what a character says and what a character means.
- When writing dialogue, use insinuation and suggestion to reveal character desires. Show, don’t tell.
Next, here are a few dialogue scenes from some of my favourite films that I think are really effective.
As Good As It Gets (1997) – Restaurant Scene
In this scene, Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is careless with his words and makes a rude slip when he tells Carol (Helen hunt) that her son is going to die soon. That is an excellent way in which dialogue is used to reveal character. The audience immediately knows what type of person Mevin is like from their short exchange.
Carol is hurt by Mevin’s careless words and stops what she is doing, and stares at him, waiting for an apology. In that moment, the background noise of the restaurant dies down, and the scene is suddenly silent. By isolating the sound, we are left in the presence of only Carol and Mevin and feel the impact of the moment better.
This is, for me, an extremely good example of how good dialogue, when coupled with sound design, really pushes and amplifies the moment in the scene.
Goodfellas (1990) – How the fuck am I funny?
Here, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) jokes with his friend Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Only, he takes the joke a little too far for comfort. In this comical scene, we see exactly what type of person Tommy DeVito is – impulsive, a little crazy and extremely funny. We are also shown the relationship between the two people.
This is a great example of how dialogue is used to show, not tell. The screenwriter trusts the audience to watch a scene that seems like it is saying nothing, and infer things like character traits, desires and relationships from it.
La La Land – Dinner Table Scene
This is a pivotal scene in the movie. Mia (Emma Stone) reminds Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) that he is not doing what he wants with his life, while Sebastian is in denial.
Here, the dialogue between the two reveals so much about the desires and state of the characters. Sebastian is at a good place financially, but is no where close to fulfilling his dream of opening a jazz bar, or playing the type of music that he loves. Mia is working her ass off to get one step closer to her dream of getting a break as an actress, and wishes that Sebastian would do the same. It also shows the relationship between them, and reveals their conflicts in mindset at this point of time, which is a key factor in moving the story forward.
Again, sound design is used to amplify the intensity of the moment – the record stops right when the emotions are the highest, allowing us as the audience to feel everything the characters feel.
To me, this dialogue scene works wonderfully in serving drama, conflict and acts as a turning point for the entire film.
Keeping my research in mind, I went ahead and started developing characters of my own.
We were tasked to list people in our lives & those that we know of / look up to, and further develop their characters to create a dialogue scene. Here are the people in my list:
- Ellis Lacey – Brooklyn (2015)
- Hubert Minel – I Killed My Mother (2009)
- Steve – Mommy (2014)
- Mathilda – Leon the Professional (1994)
- Charlotte – Lost in Translation (2003)
My favourite characters struggle with issues like family and personal identity, which are issues that i relate to very well and am interested in exploring.
Some similarities that I found from the fictional characters that i relate to are that they are all going through transitions in their lives, and face the tough decision of deciding where they are headed next. They are flawed, they have been hurt before and they are definitely very strong.
- Lynn Ramsay – Director
Lynn Ramsay is a film director, writer, producer and cinematographer best known for her films We Need To Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. Her films deal with the recurring theme of death and it’s effects on the living. I love the themes that she deals with and the fact that she wears so many hats in the film industry, and wears them well. I look up to her as one of the women in film.
- Sav Brown – Writer, Poet
Sav (Savannah) Brown is a poet that I came to know about through youtube. She is my age and I relate to a lot of the topics she deals with in her poetry, such as anxiety, self – worth and insecurities as a creative person. She is a person on the internet that I would really like to be friends with.
- Bertie Gilbert – Filmmaker, Actor
Bertie Gilbert is a filmmaker and actor that is also my age. He has directed and starred in many of his own short films, and is not afraid to make mistakes, learn from them and create again. He is always working on a new project and I really admire his spirit. I hope to be able to create many films like him and dare to make mistakes in the process.
- Lilly Singh – Youtuber
Lilly Singh is a youtuber that does comedy and vlog videos. Although i don’t watch much of her comedy content, I do enjoy her vlogs very much, and admire her spirit as a person. She is extremely positive and hardworking. If you watch her vlogs you will see that she is hustling everyday to create things and never stops working towards her goal. I love her positivity, focus and work ethic and look to her whenever I need motivation.
- Ellen DeGeneres – TV Host, Comedian, Actress, etc.
Ellen is my favourite talk show to watch. I love her positive spirit and kindness towards everyone. When I am in tough situations, I would always watch segments from her show on youtube and it would immediately make me feel better. I agree with and support issues that she cares about, like her for her LGBT community. I really love her and think that she is such a strong woman.
People in my life
- Daniel – Father
- Judy – Mother
- Sean – Best Friend
- Lina – Best Friend
- Ashraf – Friend
As for the people in my life, I chose people that were the closest to me as I can understand and relate to them the most. I know the struggles that they have faced, and their character traits very well and find that there are a lot of interesting themes and topics that can be developed from there.
Main Character – Sean
For this dialogue exercise, I chose Sean as my main character. I relate to him the most as we share many similar personality traits. He also has an interesting character background, and has faced struggles and hardships in his life – as we all are, he is not perfect. I found those qualities really engaging and worked off them to write my script.
Sean is a character that is insecure about relationships with people. this stems from the trauma that he has from his mum leaving him at a young age. He is also stubborn and overly conscious of people’s opinions of him, which leads to many conflicts in his relationships.
In my story, Sean is waiting for his girlfriend, Val, to finish getting ready to go out. He discovers that her gay best friend has been sleeping over and is not happy with it. A whim of jealousy leads to a dramatic fight.
While working on my script, I tried to keep the dialogue light and natural, while still revealing both Sean and Val’s characters. I used sub – text while I was writing it to make sure that every sentence in the scene is said for a reason, and works to show Sean’s character.
After writing the script, I made my shot list to help me visualise how the scene would play out and to prep for shoot.
Keeping in mind my earlier research, I tried to play with the sound design to emphasise the drama. I used rain as my background sound to give the scene more texture, and lowered it the the most dramatic point where Sean says “Are you fucking Josh.” to give it more impact.
I also graded it blue to fit the mood of the scene and used orange to give the image balance.
I must say that I’m genuinely glad to have done this project. I feel that I’ve learnt so much more about what goes into writing a good story with believable characters.
Although I found the research and character development extremely tedious at first, it really paid off when I started thinking about story and script. It’s so much easier to draw from a character when you’ve developed it thoroughly. This project has also pushed me to do some research on my own. From it i have learnt more about how to design dialogue to make it interesting and how to use it to develop my story. It was extremely useful as I have always struggled with writing dialogue and would stick to using just images to convey my message.
Thinking deeply about the type of characters I relate to also made me realise that I was strongly interested in some themes that I didn’t know I was into before. That will definitely help in the future when I think about the type of stories I want to tell.
Overall, I am pleased to have learnt so much from this project and am looking forward to improving more in future assignments.