Thursday, 4 March 2010

Gladiator Rules

Rules for Heroes: 4: Want what we want

I'm very fond of the film Gladiator, both to watch and as an example of scripting. Apparently they were floundering with the script and at the last minute William Nicholson was brought in to be the script doctor. He realised that a film about a bloke chopping and hacking his way through swathes of other gladiators lacked a certain something. The character wanted to survive his ordeal, which we could understand and sympathise with, but it wasn't going to put enough bums on the seats to recover the investment in reconstructing the Colosseum in CineCitta outside Rome.

What he needed was a character want we could all really buy into. So, he added to the script the horrible murder of Maximus' wife and child. Now, while the character was still fighting for survival, he was also a father and husband after revenge.

Gladiatorial fights were specific to that culture in that period of history. A parent wanting revenge for the death of a child is universal throughout history everywhere. Hence Gladiator's amazing success across the world. We may know nothing of the Roman Empire, but we can buy into what Maximus wants.

When we're writing it's a good idea to check that what your main character wants is something that is going to chime in with what readers want. The more people can identify with the character's wants, the more people will want to read the book.

If a character wants a beautiful pair of shoes, then that's limited. But if they want a beautiful pair of shoes because they believe it will make them fit in with the in-crowd, or make the man of their dreams fall in love with them, or transform them from an ugly duckling to a swan, then these are all things that have a wider appeal. Make sure your characters want what lots of people want.


liz fenwick said...

Brilliant and a great reality check when we get so caught up in the story ourselves that we don't see beyond.


Sarah Duncan said...

Yes, and as writers we sometimes have to remember that things we want aren't going to be that widespread. I'm thinking about posting about a Madeleine Wickham novel which has exactly that problem and I think was the last one before she became Sophie Kinsella.

Chris Stovell said...

Yes, an important reminder of an essential element.