Structure Is Character In Conflict
By David Wisehart
To illustrate this, let's examine the film adaptation of The Godfather to see how the main characters give rise to the structure of the film.
The central characters are:
- VITO CORLEONE: Aging mafia don with three sons. A tough immigrant Sicilian, he now dreams of taking his business legit. He's a moral man in an immoral world: he loves his family and worries about the sleazy business of drug dealing.
- SONNY: The eldest son, heir apparent, but a hothead.
- FREDO: The middle son, a weak fool.
- MICHAEL: The youngest son, a war hero, all-American (with a WASP girlfriend), very smart, loves his father but doesn't want to work in the family business.
These four characters don't really give you a film structure, but what if you add the following:
- SOLOZZO: A drug dealer who wants to build his own empire. He needs the leverage of a big player -- Vito Corleone -- but he's too ambitious.
So here's your plot:
- Solozzo (too ambitious) asks Vito to partner with him in the drug trade.
- Vito (the man of morals) politely refuses.
- Sonny (the hothead) speaks out of line.
- Solozzo (too ambitious) thinks he can make a deal with Sonny, and tries to kill Vito, placing Sonny in power.
- Fredo (the weak fool) can't protect his father.
- Vito (the tough immigrant Sicilian) survives five bullets in the chest.
- Michael (who loves his father) goes to see Vito in the hospital.
- Solozzo (too ambitious) plans to kill Vito in the hospital.
- Michael (the smart one) outwits the assassins and saves his father.
- Michael (the smart one, who loves his father) plans to avenge Vito and restore order and power to the family business.
- Michael (the war hero) goes to kill Solozzo.
- Solozzo (too ambitious) falls for the trap and gets killed.
- Michael (the smart one) flees the country.
- Michael (the all-American) hides in Sicily, where he learns to embrace his heritage.
- Sonny (the hothead) flies into a rage over the abuse of his sister, falls into a trap, and gets killed.
And so on....
Structure is the natural outgrowth of characters in conflict.
Before structuring your story, make sure you have characters who will come into conflict in a meaningful and interesting way.
David Wisehart is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter living in Southern California. He blogs as The Grammar Guy at http://www.grammar-guy.com.
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If you have questions about the structure of your writing, an educative edit or an substantive edit will help you. Begin your editing journey with a sample edit to explore your use of a character in conflict.