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Friday, July 19, 2024

Commentary: Creating compelling story arcs in films

Filmmaking undergoes various stages to craft audience-gripping movies


By SARAH HAN — arts@theaggie.org


Films are one of the most enthralling educational mediums today: from motion pictures to comedies, they take the audience on rides that provoke emotion, teach lessons and stir inspiration. One of the most imperative parts of filmmaking is creating the story — this helps the film connect with the viewers personally. However, the journey of creating a captivating story includes several stages, making filmmaking one of the most intricate processes there is.

The first stage is to contrive characters that will seamlessly fit in with the storyline. Most filmmakers create the protagonist or the main character of the film because they are key to the plot and conflict of the story. These characters propel the “emotional narrative” of the film and often play a big part in making audience members feel connected. 

However, solely creating the main character(s) is not enough; a good film usually takes the time to develop the character’s personality as the story progresses. 

A clear example of this is the character Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Throughout the entire movie, Miranda is characterized as condescending yet powerful; therefore, there is not much else to say about her personality. When she encounters Andy Sachs, however, her personality becomes more complex, as she is puzzled when Andy decides to split from the company. Although subtle, Miranda’s character development is crucial because it shows how life’s circumstances can soften even the most rigid of personalities.

The antagonist and side characters are important in aiding the protagonist’s journey. Four components are key to writing good side characters. 

One is to make sure that each side character has a purpose; for example, a villain’s purpose is to challenge the protagonist and see how they react to unexpected situations. Without a villain, a film would be dull, as it lacks a foundation for the story’s conflict.

The second component is to make them memorable. Like the protagonist, side characters’ personalities should be developed through the provision of screen time exploring their emotions. This will not only make the story more complex but also make interactions with the protagonist interesting.

The other two components are to make the secondary characters unique and memorable. This can be done by focusing on the first two components, but to make them stand out even more, filmmakers should brainstorm how they can clearly communicate each side character’s interests, flaws and personality.

The next part of the storyline is to answer the who, what, why, when, where and how questions. Who are the characters? What is the conflict? Why are they trying to solve the conflict? When and where is the story happening? How are the characters going to solve that conflict? These questions can change based on the story, but answering ones along the same lines lays the foundation for a compelling storyline.

Perhaps the most important component is the conflict because it contains the climax of the story. The conflict tests the characters and puts them in the hot seat, which reveals their “true” personalities. In other words, the conflict uncovers a more complex meaning of the narrative and emphasizes each character’s motivations, values and weaknesses.

However, the conflict and climax do not mark the end of the story. There can be unexpected twists that could deter the character’s initial success in solving the conflict; in fact, I think these twists help drive the complexity of the film’s storyline because they will keep the audience hooked until the very end.

After the characters solve the conflict, there comes a resolution stage which shows how the characters have changed. This is when the protagonist’s character development comes to fruition, which is usually shown through reflections and/or monologues. 

Although this is the basic structure of most films, many are breaking off from this traditional construction in favor of exploring other ways to tell stories. For example, “Shutter Island” follows one of the most unique structures I have seen. This was a snippet of how good films develop, and hopefully, it inspires you to film a story of your own.

Written by: Sarah Han — arts@theaggie.org