Monday, August 03, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 83 – The Unifying Factor

Characters are supposed to have arcs. So are plots. So are scripts as a whole. And over that arc, there’s something that, no matter where the character goes or how the plot unfolds, ties everything together. This is the unifying factor (as I like to call it).

The unifier is usually thematic. Family is a great and common theme – the loss of family, dysfunctional families, comparative families. What one character experiences toward the beginning of a film carries him/her throughout and bridges the gap with the other characters he/she meets along the way. The unifying theme can be quite obvious (think Paul Haggis’ CRASH), or a bit more subtle.

However, a unifying factor can also be more tangible. In THE RED VIOLIN, for example, that one object – literally, a red violin – connects the different stories that take place over a few hundred years.

In doing my rewrites, I happened to stumble upon my tangible unifying factor. I had the themes in place that I wanted to work with from the get go, but the numerous characters our protagonist meets in his journey were about as loosely connected as possible. Over the course of reworking the script, I found – with a lot of help through discussions and brainstorming sessions with Onyx – a way to tie everyone together. Though not obvious at first to me, all of the seeds for the common link were there from the get go. All I had to do was turn them from set dressing into part of a larger through line. And I’ll admit here; it’s helped a lot.

My protagonist is a bounty hunter tracking a suspect, and not to say that he didn’t have a solid arc before, but there wasn’t a lot of connection between the suspect’s crimes and the world as a whole. When I added that unifier, though, he fit right in. Suddenly, everything congealed to make this nice big, single picture. I have to go through and re-read the entire script to make sure that I didn’t inadvertently overcomplicate things, but at least they’re all interconnected now.