Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lessons from Robin Hood 3

I was so looking forward to seeing the new Robin Hood film. Gladiator, with the same star and director, had been one of my favourite films of the past decade. A Knight’s Tale, with the same screenwriter, had been another. (Will in Nice Girls Do was very much based on Heath Ledger playing the main character.) It was, for me, a dream team. How could it fail…?

Lessons from Robin Hood: Character motivation

Robin is about to go off and fight. Marian asks if he’ll come back. ‘I love you Marian,’ our hero declares, getting the biggest laugh of the evening in the cinema I was in.

Why were we laughing? It should have been touchingly romantic. And it would have been, if there had been any run up to his declaration apart from seeing Cate Blanchett undress behind layers of gauze and a couple of rides around the countryside.

Very few characters in the film had any motivation for their actions, but poor old Robin had least of all. There was a bolted on sub-plot about his father, as if half way through filming they’d suddenly realised they needed to pay lip service to motivation, but it was so crudely done, they might as well not have bothered.

I often see lack of character motivation in student writing. Characters suddenly think thoughts that have sprung from nowhere. They do random actions. I ask why, and the answer is often that the writer needs them to get from A to B. That may be true, but if it’s unmotivated, it shouldn’t happen.

(Although there is the old John Guilgud joke about his being asked during rehearsal what his character motivation was – the answer being, we open on Thursday.)

Characters need to have a reason why they behave as they do. Stories are about solving problems – the character wants X, but is prevented by Y, so they do Z. They are motivated to act by what they want and haven’t got. It could be love, it could be peace, it could even be a puppy. But whatever it is, it needs to be there.

Next event - CHESTERFIELD! 10th June, at the library at 7.30 as part of the Derbyshire Lit Fest. (Details on p 49 of the brochure). And then it's Birmingham on the 23rd.

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