Category Archives: Character

Character Arc and Change

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.

Isaac Asimov

In the Character is Everything workshop, we’ve been spending a great deal of time talking about and trying to understand the idea of “change” as it applies to the Main Character.  It is a discussion of the “character arc.”  And, when we talk about change and the character arc we are also discussing conflict, motivation and the super objective in the story.

Change is not a single event, thing or motivation.  It is a continuum; a range of change in a story.   Your Main Character begins in one place—physically and emotionally; and, over the course of the telling of the story, moves through and experiences the events of the plot, finally arriving at the end of the telling.

In the most basic of ways, the point of telling a story is to communicate the final turn—the final change, at the moment of the finale or the climax.  Here, the Main Character has over-come any and all obstacles (Internal and/or Externally), and has finally reached their goal (the Super Objective).   Either prior to or during the unfolding of this final turn the Main Character has come to some final decision or understanding which enables them to come to the place where they are able to over come the last obstacle and story ends.  This is true whether the story may be the most subtle of post-modernist story telling or the grandest of action and adventure stories.  It is the very point of story telling.  It is the culmination of the learning for the audience; the reason they’ve turned the page, or sat in their seat during all that has gone before.

The question becomes: How do you do that?

How do you know create an effective final moment so that the reader/audience has that emotional connection with the Main Character at the end; and, understands, both for themselves and the Main Character, what the learning or revelation is at the end?

Often, it’s easier to work backwards in figuring this out.  I have found it effective to ask myself; what is it I’m looking to learn by creating this story?  If, I can honestly answer this question of what it is I’m looking to learn, it is usually a short process for me to come to a decision on what the Main Character’s final change/turn and revelation/learning are in the story itself.

The Main Character then has purpose; which in turn becomes their driving force, their desire or passion—the Super Objective.

Once I have made a decision about the Main Character’s Super Objective, I can now begin a process of discovering how (the plot) they get to it, and the why (the character changes) they go through to obtain the Super Objective.

Let’s put this in practical terms.  For this discussion, let’s assume I am creating a story because I’m fascinated by the idea of revenge.  So, in turn, I give my Main Character the Super Objective of revenge.  There are a myriad of ways to spin the Learning/Revelation at the end, yet allow for the Main Character to obtain their revenge.  But, let’s keep this simple.  Ask yourself, what is an oppositional position from revenge?  Sympathy?  Forgiving?  Obedience?  Anyone of these words are great circumstances for your Main Character to begin the story.

Now, you have a beginning and an end for your Main Character’s range of change.  As the story opens, they are obedient, sympathetic and/or forgiving; and, as the story unfolds, they seek and obtain revenge.  That is a clear and focused character arc.


Story Development – Character(s) is Everything

It is said that character drives plot, and that is true. But the main reason we read (or sit in an audience) is to be reminded of the human condition in all of its complexity. That is the purpose of the writer’s work: to remind us of our humanity. Writers connect with readers through the actions and thoughts of the main and supporting characters.  A complex and dynamic main character is vital to any story, no matter the form.  A great central character must feel real, and supporting characters serve to flesh out the story in a meaningful way, creating a dynamic character web. This class is a hands-on craft-class designed to help you discover the most interesting main character for your story, as well as guide you toward a credible and complex character web.

Through exercises, class discussion, and weekly one-on-one interactions with the instructor, you will discover and develop the most interesting and complex character(s) for your project.  After this 4 week workshop, you have a much a better understanding of what drives your overall story, and how that drive can give you its shape and direction.

Dates: 08/16/2012 – 9/6/2012 –

Time: 6:30PM to 8:30PM –

Cost: $180.00 members / $205.00 non-Lighthouse members

Location: Lighthouse Writers Workshop – 1515 Race Street, Denver, CO 80206


This is a very work intensive story development class.  Bring in the project you want to work on.  This is not a lecture class.  This is a hands-on craft class.

Instructor: Michael W. Catlin

Michael has completed 9 full length motion picture screenplays, including: The Enchantment, bought by Universal Pictures and The Burnbaum/Winkler Company; as well as an adaptation of Isabel Allende’s short story “Walimai” entitled Children of the Moon, in partnership with TVC – Communicazione Telavisia, Italy.  Additionally, he’s been hired as a contract writer by producers for their projects and currently has three projects under active development.

Before moving to Denver three years ago, he spent 33 years in Los Angeles, working in front of  and behind the camera; as well as in the executive suites of the studios and production companies as a story analysis  He has coached writers and worked with directors preparing their screenplays for production, and currently is a member of the faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshops in Denver, where he focuses his teaching on “story development.”

Can I Get a Super Objective?

Super Objective:  “…the main inner content of a play produces a state of inner grasp and power in which actors can develop all the intricacies and then come to a clear conclusion as to its underlying, fundamental purpose” (273)

Constantin Stanislavski – An Actor Prepares

Over the last couple of weeks; as both What a Concept! and Plotting the Plotted Plot have come to the end of their current offering, I’ve had a number of writers dealing with problems concerning their endings/final resolutions, as well as their over all plot “cause and effect” through lines.  We’ve had long discussions regarding the wants and needs of the Main Character, Conflict, Theme and Symbol; and while these have been helpful, there were few people who were still struggling to “connect the dots”, and bring the concept of their story’s ending into focus.

I went home after a rather intense class, trying to get a handle on how I might better communicate the idea; that, the character’s “wants and needs”, their motivation for existing in the story was what drove the plot and revealed the final resolution of their story.

I started thinking about when I was acting and how in breaking down a script, one looks for the character’s Super Objective; their over all motivation for existing in the play.

The theory of the Super Objective comes from the acting system developed by Constantin Stanislavski in the early 20th Century.  Stanislavski; the Artistic Director of the Moscow Art Theater; in his collaboration to mount the plays of Anton Chekov, together brought to Western Theater what some call the revolutionary concept of Emotional Realism.  And, while, at its core, it is a process of bringing an actor’s performance in line with “real life”, I’ve always thought it was best used in conjunction with an analysis of the author’s intention in the text of the play.

In this case, I thought it might be used to simply focus on an author’s plot, applying it directly to a writer’s work at getting to the heart of a story’s emotional through-line…it’s spine.

Let me give you an example:  The Godfather.    The story centers on Michael Corleone and his rise to become the ruthless Godfather.  When Michael fist appears in the story, he’s an uncomfortable outsider to his own family.   He is ambiguous and unclear of his role in this family whom he knows well; he’s had his own experiences and heartbreak from the dangers of being involved in the family business, and he’s not even sure he belongs.   Once the Instigating Action take place; the attempted assassination of Vito Corleone; Michael becomes a force for revenge.

The Super Objective in the story is “obtain revenge.”    It is a clear through-line that everything else hangs on.   And, the brilliance of the story telling is that; while the Super Objective for the story may be Revenge, neither the actor (Al Pacino) nor the writer make that a one note expression of story.   The story explores all the moral pathos and emotional growth needed for that character to come to the place where he’s able to not only kill those who tried to kill his father, but his own brother as well.   In fact, the issue of Revenge is such a driver in that story, that by the end of the third installment, we see Michael as this shell of a human who has continued to live out the effects of that original decision, even to the point of witnessing his own daughter’s murder on the steps of the Opera House.

I’ll give you one further and brief example of how using a Super Objective for your Main Character’s through-line can help focus a story.

I’m working with a writer who is developing a very complex story that involves a character from Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  He’s been working with the idea that the narrator/story teller is the Main Character.  He’s been very diligent at working out the motivations of the Main Character and plot, but he’s had a very difficult time at coming to a solid conceptual understanding of his ending/final resolution.  So, I asked him what he thought the Main Character’s Super Objective might be, and he had a very difficult time coming up with one.  I asked him to play “what if” with me, and flip the Main Character and the Opposition/Conflict Character; a minor character in Don Quixote.   I then asked what that character’s Super Objective might be.  He sat for a moment, and I asked; “could it be, get Cervantes?”  The light bulb when off. and I watched as numerous pieces of puzzle fell into place, and he began to see a very clear though-line for his plot.

Now, “Revenge” and “Get Cervantes” are very strong Super Objectives.  But, both are attached to very strong and complex stories.   I also have had a young woman working on a very sweet and lyrical story about a teacher who loses her job, opens an ice cream story and finds love.   Her Super Objective might be “Find true love.”   The journey that character takes to get back on her feet after being fired, risking it all on an Ice Cream shop and the various mistaken choices and turns she makes along the way to find true love can be complex, lyrical and lovely piece of work.    The exact opposite of Michael Corleone’s rise to power, yet just as interesting.

Having a clear Super Objective for your Main Character can be a little like having  a clothes line for your story; everything hangs dry and clean in the light of day.

Write!  BICHOK!