HULK PRESENTS CHARACTER TREES!

Hulk smash character! Right into easily-digestible pieces that will help you build them from the feet up.

HEY THERE!

SO A FEW DAYS AGO ON TWITTER, A READER BY THE NAME OF GERRY MARAVILLA SENT HULK A SUPER-HANDY PDF-CHART THAT BREAKS DOWN ONE OF THE CHAPTERS IN HULK'S SCREENWRITING BOOK INTO A REALLY HELPFUL ONE-SHEET. AND SO HULK THOUGHT IT WOULD BE SUPER HELPFUL TO SHARE WITH YOU HERE!

THE CHAPTER IS ACTUALLY CALLED "CHARACTER TREES" AND THEY ARE AN EVOLUTION OF AN OLD STRATEGY FOR DEVELOPING ROUNDED, COMPELLING CHARACTERS. WHAT HULK LOVES ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR STRATEGY IS THAT 1) IT'S NOT SCREENPLAY SPECIFIC IN ANY WAY AND CAN THUS BE USED FOR ANYTHING. AND 2) IT REALLY DOES HELP YOU CONSTRUCT A CHARACTER IN A PURPOSEFUL, NON-BULLSHITTY WAY... AND BELIEVE HULK, THERE ARE SO MANY CHARACTER-CREATING MODELS OUT THERE THAT LEAD TO A LOT OF BULLSHIT. THIS ONE HULK FINDS TO BE THE MOST HELPFUL BY FAR. TO ELABORATE:

THE GOAL OF CREATING ANY CHARACTER IS TO MAKE THEM FEEL LIKE A REAL PERSON.

IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THEY ARE A SUPER-POWERED HERO OR A MILD-MANNERED SCHOOLTEACHER, THEY STILL HAVE TO FEEL REAL. AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, FEELING REAL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT THE CHARACTER WHO "TALKS REALISTICALLY." HECK,  YOUR ENTIRE MOVIE CAN BE FILLED WITH THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO CAN ALL SAY THE WITTIEST THING AT THE PERFECT TIME. THAT'S NOT WHAT EFFECTS OUR ABILITY TO BELIEVE IN CHARACTERS (DESPITE THE FEW FOLKS THAT COMPLAIN IT DOES). GENERAL AUDIENCES WILL GENERALLY ACCEPT ANYTHING THAT THAT THEY FIND COMPELLING. IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THEY OPERATING IN A "REALISTIC SITUATION" AT ALL. NO, BEING A REAL PERSON, AT LEAST IN TERMS OF CREATING A CHARACTER, IS ABOUT MAKING THAT PERSON HONEST TO THE EMOTIONAL TRUTH OF THEMSELVES IN A GIVEN SITUATION. IT'S ABOUT BEING HONEST TO "WHO THE CHARACTER IS" AT EVERY GIVEN MOMENT. IT'S ABOUT BEING HONEST TO THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT COULD ACTUALLY MAKE THAT CHARACTER CHANGE. AND ULTIMATELY, IT'S ABOUT EXPRESSING ALL THOSE THINGS IN A DRAMATIC WAY.

OF COURSE, FIGURING OUT HOW TO EXECUTE ALL OF THAT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, BUT EVERYONE HAS TO TO START SOMEWHERE. AND WHEN WRITERS FIRST START OFF THEY TEND TO FUMBLE A LOT WITH THIS CORE PROBLEM OF "REALISM" (WHICH IS OKAY BY THE WAY, AS THERE'S NO OTHER WAY TO LEARN). SO YOU'LL SEE A LOT OF WRITERS BASE CHARACTERS ON PEOPLE THEY KNOW IN REAL LIFE, JUST AS A WAY OF EXPRESSING SOMETHING THEY SEE AS TRUE. BUT HONESTLY IT JUST ENDS UP BEING A SHORTHAND ATTEMPT AT GETTING THAT FINAL EFFECT. JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE TRUE, DOESN'T MAKE THEM FEEL TRUE. HULK EVEN REMEMBERS ONE STUDENT BEING SUPER PLEASED THAT THEY "REALLY CAPTURED HOW AN ARGUMENT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO THEM!" (WARNING: DON'T WORK OUT YOUR PSYCHOSIS AT EVERYONE ELSE'S 15 BUX). YOUNG WRITERS WILL BE VERY PROUD THEY "CAPTURED HOW PEOPLE REALLY TALK" AND THEIR DIALOGUE IS FILLED WITH LIKES / UMS / YOU KNOWS (HINT. DON'T DO THAT. LET AN ACTOR BRING THAT ORGANIC QUALITY. JUST WRITE THE WORDS). BUT THE THING TO REALLY UNDERSTAND ABOUT THIS STUFF IS THAT IT IS JUST "THE TEXTURE" OF YOUR WORK. IT'S THE TONE. IT'S ONLY THE TYPE OR GENRE OF YOUR WORLD. AND IT REALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BELIEVING IN CHARACTERS. FOR THE ONLY KIND OF TRUTH THAT MATTERS IS WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE THE CHARACTER'S OWN EMOTIONAL TRUTH.

BUT AGAIN, EVEN ONCE WRITERS UNDERSTAND THAT FACT  IT IS STILL HARD TO EXECUTE. SOME OF THE MORE ADVANCED PROBLEMS WITH THE CHARACTERIZATION OFTEN END UP GOING IN TWO SEPARATE DIRECTIONS. ON ONE HAND, THE SEARCH FOR "CHARACTER TRUTH" LEADS TO WRITERS TRYING TO FLESH THEM OUT JUST COME UP WITH A LOT OF UNNECESSARY BACKGROUND DETAILS. AND SOMETIMES THEY HELP DEFINE AND "COLOR IN" THE PERSON AND ALL, BUT 1) THEY STILL HAVE TO BE COHERENT SO THE PERSON DOESN'T COME OFF LIKE CRAZY AND 2) THEY'RE NOT HELPFUL IF THEY DON'T REALLY ADD MUCH TO THE STORY (THUS ONLY PROVIDING MORE OF THAT "TEXTURE" STUFF). ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SPECTRUM, A LOT OF TIMES WRITERS WILL JUST COME UP WITH CHARACTER DETAILS THAT ONLY SEEM TO FIT THE PLOT. AND THE PROBLEM WITH THAT IS THAT IT SO OFTEN GOES AGAINST THE INSTINCTIVE WAY WE THINK THE CHARACTER WOULD BEHAVE (THIS IS TRUE EVEN IF YOU ARE WRITING A TIGHTLY-PLOTTED STRUCTURE-FEST. THE EVENTS AND CHOICES BEING MADE STILL NEED TO FEEL LIKE THEY ARE COMING FROM CHARACTER, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. BECAUSE BEHAVIOR DICTATES STORY). SO WHILE OF THESE TRENDS TEND TO SOLVE ONE OF YOUR WRITING PROBLEMS (FLESHING THINGS OUT OR MAKING THE PLOT FUNCTION), THEY ARE ACTUALLY OBSTRUCTIONS TO YOUR YOUR MOST PRESSING NEED, FOR WE HAVE TO BELIEVE IN THE CHARACTER'S PERSONAL REALITIES MORE THAN ANYTHING.

SO HOW DO ACTUALLY YOU DO THAT?

HOW DO YOU MAKE A CHARACTER UNDERSTANDABLE? HOW DO YOU INVOKE THAT WAY THAT EVEN THE MOST UNAWARE GENERAL AUDIENCES SEEM TO UNDERSTAND WHO A CHARACTER IS? HOW DO AUDIE3NCES SEEM TO NATURALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT A CHARACTER WILL AND WILL NOT DO, ANYWAY? HOW DO WE BRING IT ALL TOGETHER?

WELL, THIS IS ALL BUILDING TO ONE POINT:

THE WAY TO BUILD REALISTIC CHARACTER IS ACTUALLY TO BUILD A REALISTIC PSYCHOLOGY.

FOR WHEN WE UNDERSTAND A CHARACTER'S MOTIVES THEN WE CAN UNDERSTAND AND CONTEXTUALIZE THEIR BEHAVIOR. WHEN WE KNOW WHAT THEY WANT. WHAT THEY ARE MISSING. HOW THEY ARE BROKEN. HOW THEY ARE STRONG. IT NOT ONLY PROVIDES US WITH THOSE CRUCIAL "DETAILS" THAT FLESH THEM OUT, BUT PROVIDES THE NECESSARY CONTEXT FOR EVERY SINGLE ACTION OR CONFLICT THAT CAN OCCUR WITHIN THE MOVIE, WHETHER INTERNALLY CREATED (HE'S A GAMBLING ADDICT WHO IS TERRIFIED OF COMMITMENT!) OR EVEN THE EXTERNALLY CREATED CONFLICTS (HE WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE IN THE WRONG TIME, OR OH NO ALIENS ARE ATTACKING!). BUILD A PSYCHOLOGY FOR YOUR CHARACTER AND SUDDENLY THEIR BEHAVIOR WILL MAKES SENSE, BOTH TO YOU AS A WRITER AND TO YOUR AUDIENCE. SUDDENLY THE CHARACTERS BECOME COMPELLING. SUDDENLY YOU UNDERSTAND THEIR PLACE IN THE LARGER WORLD.

THINK ABOUT ABOUT SOME POPULAR CHARACTERS RIGHT NOW. THINK ABOUT HOW WALTER WHITE'S PSYCHOLOGY DICTATED HIS DECISIONS IN THAT PILOT AND CONTINUED TO DICTATE THEM OVER THE COURSE OF THE SHOW. THINK ABOUT TONY SOPRANO THE WAY THAT SHOW WAS REALLY JUST ABOUT EXPLORING THE DEEPEST RECESSES OF HIS BRAIN. THINK ABOUT HOW EVEN A FILM LIKE GRAVITY ONLY NEEDED WAS AN UNDERSTANDING OF HER PSYCHOLOGY AT THE MOMENT TO MAKE THAT SIMPLE STORY WORK (AND ALMOST NOTHING ELSE). THINK ABOUT ALL THE BEST MOVIES THIS YEAR. THINK OF THE CHARACTERS. THINK OF HOW THEIR PSYCHOLOGY WAS EXPRESSED AND TIED SO DIRECTLY INTO THE FILM'S ACTION. THINK ABOUT THEIR MOTIVATIONS, WANTS, AND NEEDS. THESE ARE THE REAL THINGS SHAPE YOUR CHARACTERS. AND WHEN YOU CAN BUILD ALL THOSE THINGS IN DIRECT RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER, WHEN YOU CAN MAKE THOSE DETAILS COME TOGETHER IN A COHESIVE FASHION, THEN YOU CAN THE CRAFT WHAT WE CALL A "REALISTIC PSYCHOLOGY" AND CREATE A COMPELLING CHARACTER.

AND WHAT IS SO GREAT ABOUT THE "CHARACTER TREE" STRATEGY ITSELF, IS THAT IT TAKES YOU FROM THE "GROUND UP" AND IS TAILORED MADE FOR BUILDING A PSYCHE.

* * *

FIRST OFF, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE CALLED "TREES" THE METAPHOR IS ACTUALLY JUST PARTS OF THE HUMAN BODY. DON'T ASK HULK WHY THAT IS BUT IT GOES: FEET, GROIN, HEART, THROAT, LEFT CHEEK, RIGHT CHEEK, CROWN. HULK HAS TAKEN GERRY'S SUMMATION OF WHAT HULK WROTE, AND ADDED FEW NOTES TOO:

* * *

• FEET – [PHENOTYPE] Wholly palpable details to draw on, like physical details and facts.

o What does this person look like?

o Where did they live?

o Where do they go to school?

o Do they have tattoos? Why?

o Who is their best friend?

o What is their occupation?

• GROIN – [WANT] The groin covers all of the things about the character that are born out of impulse and desire. 

o What does this person want?

o How does their sexuality manifest itself?

o What about them is base and puerile? Greed? Approval? Esteem?

Gluttony? You can basically run toward their approach to the seven deadly sins.

• HEART [NEEDS] –The heart is essentially all the things they secretly need in their life to make them a better, more functional person.

o What does this person need?

o What will make them a more functional person?

o Do they need to find self-confidence?

o Do they need to find their humility?

o Do they need to provide for their family?

• THROAT – [VOICE] The throat is basically their posture, attempt and presentation, and affectation.

o How does this person sound?

o Not just the literal voice, but how does this person project themselves?

o How do they try to come off to other people?

o How do they actually come off to other people?

• LEFT CHEEK [LOGICAL CAPACITY] –Basically, the left cheek is their methodology, exposing the “left-brained" abilities.

o What is their intelligence?

o How does it manifest itself? What is their practicality?

o How do they solve problems?

• RIGHT CHEEK [ARTISTIC CAPACITY] –The right cheek is their ethics and soul and exposes their “right-brained" abilities

o What is their idealistic/artistic capacity?

o What is their un-practicality?

o What is their spirituality?

• CROWN [THE FULL PSYCHE] – Who is this character?

o Piece the body parts together to see how they work as actual psychology.

o What are their defining memories?

o What is their pathology? How will the behave? How would this person overcome things to behave a different way?

* * *

HOPEFULLY, IF YOU PIECE ALL THESE THINGS TOGETHER RIGHT, YOU START HAVING A REAL CHARACTER WHOSE DETAILS ALL MAKE SENSE TOGETHER. START TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST AND THINK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP OF THESE DETAILS: HOW DOES THEIR APPEARANCE AFFECT THEIR WANTS? HOW DOES THEIR FEARS AFFECT THEIR SOCIAL PRESENTATION? HOW DO THOSE WANTS AFFECT THEIR BEHAVIOR? WHAT EVENTS MAY HAVE SHAPED THESE FEELINGS? HOW DOES THEIR INTELLECT LIMIT THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR NEEDS? ANSWERING QUESTIONS LIKE THAT WILL TRULY LEAD YOU DOWN THE RIGHT PATH OF CHARACTERIZATION.

AND MOST LOVELY OF ALL, WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND HOW THESE DETAILS FIT TOGETHER, IT JUST SO HAPPENS TO BECOME THE IDEAS THAT BEST SHAPE YOUR CORE STORY CONFLICT. FOR EXAMPLE, ALMOST ALL THE GREAT DRAMAS AND COMEDIES ARE WRITTEN ABOUT A CHARACTER WHO WANTS SOMETHING, BUT WHAT THEY WANT IS BAD FOR THEM, AND THEN ULTIMATELY THEY DISCOVER WHAT THEY NEED. MEANING IT'S JUST THE BATTLE OF THE GROIN AND HEART. IT'S THE HUMAN ROUTE TO CATHARSIS AND UNDERSTANDING. AND IF YOU CAN UNDERSTAND YOUR CHARACTER'S PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS, IT'S AMAZING HOW MUCH EASIER IT IS TO WRITE THOSE EXTERNAL PLOT-BASED CONFLICTS THAT NOW SUDDENLY WORK 1000X BETTER. SUDDENLY THOSE ZOMBIES BECOME A PSYCHOLOGICAL MANIFESTATION OF YOUR CHARACTER'S INABILITY TO GROW UP AND COMMIT. SUDDENLY THE ALIEN KILLING OFF THE CREW BECOMES AN ALLOWANCE FOR FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IN A HYPER-MASCULINE WORLD. SOMETIMES IT'S SIMPLER THEN THAT. SOMETIMES THE CEILING FAN STARTING TO WORK BECOMES ONE JUROR'S EXPRESSION OF HOPE.

THIS STUFF IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG, OF COURSE. HULK COULD TALK ENDLESSLY ABOUT THE NUANCES OF CHARACTERIZATION BECAUSE THEY ARE TRULY INFINITE. BUT PEOPLE TEND TO GET LOST IN THAT INFINITE NATURE. THEY NEVER SEEM TO KNOW WHAT THEY WANT TO SALE TOWARD (THEY JUST KNOW THEY WANT A POSITIVE EFFECT). SO EVERY TIME HULK SEES WRITERS TOLD THAT "IT'S ALL ABOUT CHARACTER!" AND THEN THEY ONLY GET SOME VAGARIES AS TO WHY AND HOW THAT WORKS, HULK GETS GRUMPY. BECAUSE WE NEED AN ANCHOR. WRITERS NEED THAT KEY IDEA TO LOCK ONTO THAT WILL ACTUALLY GET THEM CLOSER TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF WHAT A CHARACTER BEING "REAL" ACTUALLY MEANS. AND IT'S NOT ABOUT SURFACE DETAILS AND HOOKS AND EYE-PATCHES OR WHATEVER THE OTHER GUY SAYS. INSTEAD, YOU HAVE TO CONSTRUCT A CHARACTER AND THEIR BEHAVIOR LIKE A CONVINCING ARGUMENT.

IT'S ABOUT CREATING SOMEONE WHO CAN BE UNDERSTOOD.

* * *

HULK HOPES THIS WAS HELPFUL. TO BE HONEST, HULK KIND OF STRUGGLES IN DEALING WITH HOW MUCH HULK SHOULD TALK ABOUT THE BOOK, AS HULK DOESN'T WANT TO COME ACROSS AS GRATING OR OVERLY-PROMOTIONAL. HULK JUST WANTS YOU TO KNOW THIS IS ALL AN ONGOING DIALOGUE AND HULK JUST WANTS TO HELP. THE BOOK IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON AMAZON HERE - OR ON IBOOKS HERE - AND IF YOU DON'T HAVE A KINDLE DON'T LET THAT STOP YOU (BY THE WAY, NO IPHONE YET - AND WE CAN'T GET ANSWERS FROM APPLE). EVERYONE KEEPS ASKING AND YES WE ARE EXPLORING PRINT COPIES. IT'S REALLY TRICKY THOUGH, SO HULK DOESN'T WANT TO GET ANYONE'S HOPES UP. PLEASE LET HULK KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS AT ALL AND SINCEREST OF THANKS..

AND OF COURSE, FEEL FREE TO USE THIS HANDY DANDY "CHARACTER TREES" GUIDE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE (THANKS AGAIN GERRY). PRINT IT OUT. DO WHATEVER YOU LIKE.

AND GO MAKE AWESOME CHARACTERS

<3 HULK

Related Articles

Comments