There has been a lot of talk about structure here, and to me, it's character that is more important than structure. You must present characters that the audience will care about and identify with. If you can't do that, it's game over. I think the STORY book by McKee covers character the best, as it ventures a lot into psychological components.
Good to have another voice in the mix. Been awhile since i've written on this thread, but I've been occupied with my professional pursuits of late. Glad to see the conversation continue.
I want to riff here and talk a bit about character as well. Fanfilms, as Maurice
points out, give a lot of lip service about character, but rarely show us compelling characters that, as mos6507
puts it, make us care. They opt for the easy way out when it comes to characters, by giving us traits, likes and dislikes, and family issues in lieu of actual characterization. They shovel us, once again as Maurice
points out, with background. There are no real motivations.
The TREK example I like to use when talking about compelling characters is the difference between TOS and TNG. In TOS, we knew who
the characters were, what drives them and the lengths they would go to get what they want, and how they resolved problems often strife against each other, creating dramatic conflict. In the seven years and four movies of TNG, we only learned the what
of the characters, never really learning what they wanted (other than Data) and what they would sacrifice to get it. Instead, we learned traits
, such as Riker playing the trembone and Troi's orgasmic fetish for chocolate. Sure Riker wanted a ship of his own, but that was lip service as he never really did anything to get it himself.
Moreover, family issues, such as the Peter Kirk-James Kirk relationship in PHASE II or the upcoming daddy issues-centric
STARSHIP FARRAGUT, doesn't always equate to real characterization. Or real drama for that matter.(And LOST overplayed that hand a lot.)
More often than not, it's a cheat, as JMS points out in the BABYLON 5 scriptbooks (vol. 1, pg. 19, precisely):
Note: This bit is in reference to the first draft of the pilot film, "The Gathering," and Garabaldi trying to contact his dying father in order to say goodbye.
It was also too obviously a ploy for sympathy. If you want to get an audience involved with a character, the easiest — and thereby cheapest — way is to kill off someone close to him or her.
And JMS would know. He used that ploy a lot: Ivanova and her dying father, Sheridan and his dead wife.
Family issues can lead to good drama, conflicts between the wants of those family members, but fan films punt on this, giving us melodrama and soap opera cliche in lieu of real conflict. Or it's packed in needless exposition or background.
So many fanfilms have the characters reacting to the events instead of driving the action, which makes them uncompelling as characters no matter how much dramatic backstory they're given. Who they are isn't interesting. How their character compels them to act or fail to act is what makes them interesting.
The choices that they make, the way they go about overcoming obstacles and resolve the problem they face, is what makes them compelling. Not the backstory of what drives them. Batman isn't interesting because of his parents murder driving him. What makes him compelling is how he ACTS because of it to solve the problems in his stories.
The choices characters make often clash with the choices of other characters, which creates real drama, not melodrama.