It's Only Characters
My very first script had a tragic flaw. It was about two teenagers who start a murder spree after being seen murdering one of their friends. (I honestly, don't remember why they killed him.)
They kill the first person and someone sees them, so they have to kill that person as well, but that person runs into a teenager party, so now our two leads have to kill the entire party. This all takes place over the backdrop of a serial killer who's terrorizing the town on his own killing spree. And guess what? They all meet up at the same house!
What are the odds?!
The script was a complete tongue-in-cheek, dark-comedic horror movie. But that's not why it was flawed. We're talking early 90s when I wrote this. Idle Hands, anyone? (Technically, that's 1999...but it counts!)
The reason the script wasn't any good was because of my leads. My two main characters had zero emotion. They killed because they felt like they needed to. They had no remorse. They had no qualms about their murderous decisions. They didn't even openly disregard the norms of society while flouting them with their evil deeds. Imagine going to the post office to buy stamps. That's how my leads felt about everything they were doing.
How could I expect an audience to connect with them? Back then, I was a fool. Now, I realize that my characters are just as important , and even more so, important than any other function of any story I create.
Characters and their decisions influence my plot. They affect my story direction. If you've heard writers talk about how their characters talk to them while writing and make decisions that even the writer didn't even think about when plotting out scenes, this is what I'm referencing.
Indiana Jones doesn't get himself in trouble with the Thuggee if he isn't after "fortune and glory". The Hickory High basketball team doesn't win a championship if Jimmy Chitwood doesn't base his decision to play hoop on whether Coach Dale remains? Harry Tasker doesn't find himself a prisoner of the Crimson Jihad if he isn't worried about his wife's supposed infidelity?
The characters in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hoosiers and True Lies are not victims of the plots in their stories. They are influencing the plot. They are causing the action around them based on their character motivated decisions.
It took me some time before I realized that. And I still need to remind myself, such as right now. I'm writing a short story about a dragon accidentally let loose in a small apartment complex in the middle of a blizzard. The old style kind where the lobby is huge and open and every floor has a balcony that looks out over the lobby. Enough room for the dragon to fly and torch some peeps.
I'm 15K words into this piece and I'm wondering why anyone is doing anything. I mean, I do. But you know, not enough.
And my first script was called It's Only Murder. Get it? Like when these kids are asked why they did all this killing...that would be their response. I know. I can't imagine why the script didn't work either.