Helping you tell better stories

Helping you tell better stories;

closer to your vision than you ever dreamt possible.


Laurie Hutzler - Character Map

I've been meaning to write a post about Laurie Hutzler for ages – her approach to planning and rewriting stories is incredibly powerful, and her Character Map is one of my favourite tools.

What Is A Character Map?

The Character Map is a proven way to develop characters that have a rich compelling emotional journey and a dynamic set of internal and external personal conflicts.  Use this tool to create characters that leap off the page in your screenplay or teleplay.  Great screenwriting begins with great characters.  Great characters with a compelling emotional journey make your script truly memorable.

Some of the terminology she uses differs slightly from Truby (specifically his Four Necessities which I wrote about here) but they're certainly compatible and complementary approaches to the same goal.

Hutzler's approach has you ask six questions of each character – What is their greatest fear? What is the greatest misconception about them? What is their strongest trait? What is their biggest foible, or shortcoming that gets them in trouble when things are otherwise going well? What do they most admire in others? What trait in others sets their teeth on edge? – and brings you to a far greater understanding of your characters and the relationships / conflicts between them than you might have thought possible.

A key part of understanding and incorporating these tools into your process is that she initially encourages you to ask these six questions of yourself. Do it now – it's really illuminating – especially when she reveals the hidden truth behind what your responses really mean.

Seeing this approach reveal things you perhaps didn't know about yourself demonstrates immediately how rich and multi-dimensional your fictional characters can be, and allows you to easily draw on these facets of your own persona and psyche in rounding-out your creations.

The process also works extremely well for seeking to understand the inner-workings of real people if, for instance, you find yourself writing a biographical script. Applying these questions to your subject allows you to draw real-feeling complexity and depth from, for example, long-departed historical figures whose bigger actions are known, but whose private thoughts can only be the subject of conjecture.

(Check out this analysis of the Lincoln trailer btw.) (Way more interesting than it sounds.)

Of course a rich understanding of your characters' inner lives is of limited use if you're not conveying that to the audience, and so Hutzler has a method to map your answers to the timeline of your story that will provide a rich character arc complete with a couple of speedbumps along the way.

Here she does get a little more esoteric than Truby. The complexity is well worth drilling into. Essentially the end result boils down to whether or not your main character(s) can transcend their fears and entrenched beliefs & behaviours, and become a better version of themselves, both for themselves and for others. For truly meaningful storytelling this choice should be a moral one – something affecting the happiness of others.

Can your hero learn so much from their struggle that they are willing to take a leap of faith at the end, cast off old ways, and become the person they never dared dream they could be? That's the central question of a lot of the world's best storytelling.

I hope you get as much out of this technique as I did. Let me know in the comments how you get on with Laurie Hutzler's approach.