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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsToday, we will talk about background and character as important elements that make up the story. Most stories start this way. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away. Through this, the background is implied. A temporal location of a long, long time ago. A spatial location of a land far, far away. You may have some doubts about the background of the story. Let me explain further. During the era of oral tradition or written culture, there were some problems with visual presentation. In the absence of colorful cinematic visuals during that time, no matter how one explained the backdrop, the actual impression of the scene was lacking. During the era of written language, the idea of “background” was actually rather weak.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsConversely, in the digital era, there is much emphasis placed on the background in a story. This was so in Avatar, as well as in many digital games where background and visual embellishments are exceedingly important. This element was relatively weak in periods of both oral and written tradition, so it was common to just set the background to once upon a time, in a land far away. This classic method of storytelling focused on the characters instead. Background, however, is still important. Where in the world did this take place? What sort of worldview is being processed here, and can the audience be made to accept such a view?

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 secondsPresent or past, East or West, the audience should be convinced of the importance of the story's worldview, and should be aware of the absurdity or fantastic nature of the events taking place within the world in the story. I hope there will be a chance next time to talk about the difference between an analog background and transmedia storytelling background. My next point to make it is about the main protagonist. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived someone. Now, the story of the character emerges. The story really only begins when the character is introduced. The role of the character in a story is still as important now as was in the age of oral tradition.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 secondsIn our present image-focused society, there are points about character that are more essential, while some that have become less relevant. By this, I mean that physical or visual aspects of the character have started to be more emphasized. Characters in digital games, television programs, and movies. Their appearance is very important. For this reason, actors are incredibly good-looking. Are his acting skills good? Is he tall? Are his eyes green? These are important factors. We have preconceived, fantastical ideas and standards of what is beautiful or appealing, and so we create a character to meet these standards. As a result, this is an era that has strong focus on visual stimuli. Compared to visuals, the description of the psyche has been reduced.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 secondsThink about digital games, there is generally background information about how the character grew up, which is still interesting up to a certain point. But their psychological state? There are limit to what can be described. Relative to the strong character-building displayed back in the days of written language, the psychological aspect when building a character has significantly weakened. On the other hand, visual characteristics have become a lot more powerful. They strongly interlock plot and character. In some stories, the character is important. In some stories, the plot is. Of course, all are essential elements, but this is a choice we have to make when creating a story. Am I going with a character-based story, or a plot-centered one? Let's look at an example.

Skip to 5 minutes and 12 secondsSay some robbers are trying to rob a bank. How should I prepare this story? How they prepared for this heist, what happened in the process, what occurred that day onsite, how dynamic the events were, how the standoff with police turned out, and what happened after that. At every sequential stage, there are plenty of things we are curious about, and so this becomes a plot-centered story. What happened next? Were they caught? Did they get away with it? This is an important plot. Naturally, characters are also important. What kind of actor is taking on which role, that’s a consideration too, but this may be a better movie where each point of the story sees important action flowing.

Skip to 6 minutes and 14 secondsContrary to this, character-oriented films tend to demand little of their plots. Simply put, if you have a couple of characters that are nice and close, a few hours can go by easily without a specific storyline. It is sufficient just to have them sit together or share some mundane tales with each other. That is somewhat like dating. The stuff of romance movies. Romance movies need to be this way, as they concentrate on the appeal of both characters, and also on how this appeal attracts them to each other. Naturally, there is a storyline, a plot and some drama in the movie, but the charisma of the characters is the main focus.

Skip to 7 minutes and 1 secondHence when we create the main character, we have to keep in mind that this character’s appeal is key to the story’s success. The strategy would then be to create a beautiful or suave, charismatic character, and to focus on the goal of that character and his or her struggle to achieve it. This goal is clearly defined through the movie or its content. The audience, too, should be swept up in the fulfillment of this goal. There are two ways to do this, that is to either be in agreement with how charismatic or good the character is, or to be impressed or emotionally affected by the character’s goal-driven actions so as to develop concern for the character.

Skip to 7 minutes and 59 secondsSo, the first thing to bear in mind: to create an amazing character in romance films, you need to make his goal easily agreeable. Following this, you can embellish the character to endow him with depth of personality. There should be some kind of inner deficiency that drives the character to achieve this goal. There should be some kind of inner weakness that would make this character more identifiable to the man on the street. In this case, an extremely handsome actor or lofty goals usually fail with audiences. We find these difficult to accept. We require some part of this character to be flawed, for there to be internal conflict and pain for us to sympathize and agree with the character’s choices.

Skip to 8 minutes and 57 secondsThe strategy here, then, is to create a charismatic character that simultaneously has an inner-story that calls for our sympathy, empathy, and support. Thus, as the story’s content becomes longer, such as in the 100 odd minutes of a movie, the story’s protagonist needs a variety of events and situations, as well as opportunities to appear stricken with the need to make certain choices. In shorter content, the character will have to be consistent. Same appearance, same behaviors. With longer content, there is more time for communication with the audience, more time for the audience to participate in the character’s internal dilemmas.

Skip to 9 minutes and 44 secondsIn sum, the main point here is whether character development leans toward consistency or complexity, a matter dependent on length of content and story composition.

The common rule of storytelling: settings and characters

In this video I talk about background and character as important elements that make up the story.

The story really only begins when the character is introduced. The role of the character in a story is still as important now as was in the age of oral tradition.

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This video is from the free online course:

Transmedia Storytelling

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)