Saturday, July 5, 2014

Film Writes: Catalysts for Character Development

WARNING: The following post contains plot spoilers for the movie Thor: The Dark World.

Writers talk a lot about character development. The story is only as powerful as the impact of the characters’ growth and change.

It’s relatively easy to develop your protagonist’s character. The catalysts will be people or circumstances that give your protagonist opportunities to make changes for the better.

Wouldn’t there be more impact, though, if each catalyst caused development in more than one character? And if the story conflict increased with each catalyst?

Positive Change

In the movie Thor: The Dark World, the first catalyst for change for protagonist Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) is the ruthless murder of his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo). Thor faces a decision, and a turning point. He can choose rage and bitterness, or he can go a different direction and develop a greater character.

Because Thor matured so much in his first movie, his response is rational and kingly: pursue the murderers and defeat them on their own ground, so he doesn’t risk any more of his own people’s lives.

Negative Change

Frigga’s death is also a catalyst for her husband Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who comes to the same turning point as Thor. However, instead of taking the high road and becoming a better man, Odin loses touch with rationality. In anger and pain, he declares that he’d rather sacrifice as many more of his own people as would be necessary to face the murderers back in Asgard (Odin’s kingdom).


One catalyst, one turning point—and two opposite outcomes for two different characters. And even more, the conflict only increases as Thor defies Odin to pursue the murderers, and Odin all but puts a price on Thor’s head.


What are some of the catalysts in your work-in-progress that bring about turning points for your characters’ development? In particular, where does your protagonist start out, and what happens through the story that develops his or her character? What does the protagonist’s character look like at the end? Are there ways you can work with one catalyst to affect and change more than one of your characters at a time, for added conflict?

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