4 Qualities – Field

4 Qualities – Field
4 Qualities - Syd Field Dramatic Need - Text Dramatic Need - Clip Point of View - Text Point of View Clip Attitude - Text Attitude Clip Transformation Transformation Clip Arc - Insider

4 Qualities - Syd Field

4 QUALITIES: Syd Field describes four essential qualities that “go into the making of good characters: (1), the characters have a strong and defined dramatic need; (2), they have an individual point of view; (3), they personify an attitude; and (4), they go through some kind of change, or transformation. Those four elements, those four qualities, make up good character” (63 Field).

Dramatic Need - Text


“First, define the dramatic need of your character. What does your character want? What is his/her need? What drives him to the resolution of your story? In Chinatown, Jake Gittes's need is to find out who set him up, and why. In The Bourne Supremacy (Tony Gilroy), Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) needs to know who wants to kill him, and why. You must define the need of your character. What does he/she want?” (40 Field). “The character's need determines the creative choices he/she makes during the screenplay, and gaining clarity about that need allows you to be more complex, more dimensional, in your character portrayal” (39 Field). “The need of your character gives you a goal, a destination, an ending to your story. How your character achieves or does not achieve that goal becomes the action of your story” (41 Field). “dramatic need is the engine that powers the character through the story line” (65 Field). “By looking into the heart of the protagonist and discovering his desire, you begin to see the arc of your story, the Quest on which the Inciting Incident sends him” (197 McKee).


“The protagonist seeks an object of desire beyond his reach. Consciously or unconsciously he chooses to take a particular action, motivated by the thought or feeling that this act will cause the world to react in a way that will be a positive step toward achieving his desire. From his subjective point of view the action he has chosen seems minimal, conservative, yet sufficient to effect the reaction he wants. But the moment he takes this action, the objective realm of his inner life, personal relationships, or extra-personal world, or a combination of these, react in a way that's more powerful or different than he expected” (147 McKee).

DRAMATIC NEED AS SPINE: “The energy of a protagonist's desire forms the critical element of design known as the Spine of the story (AKA Through-line or Super-objective). The Spine is the deep desire in and effort by the protagonist to restore the balance of life. It's the primary unifying force that holds all other story elements together. For no matter what happens on the surface of the story, each scene, image, and word is ultimately an aspect of the Spine, relating, causally or thematically, to this core of desire and action” (194 McKee). “Every main, or major, character has a strong dramatic need. Dramatic need is defined as what your main characters want to win, gain, get, or achieve during the course of your screenplay. The dramatic need is what drives your characters through the story line” (Field 63-64). “The PROTAGONIST has a conscious desire” (138 McKee). “It is their purpose, their mission, their motivation, driving them through the narrative action of the story line” (63-64 Field). “The protagonist's will impels a known desire. The protagonist has a need or goal, an object of desire, and knows it. If you could pull your protagonist aside, whisper in his ear, "What do you want?" he would have an answer: ''I'd like X today, Y next week, but in the end I want Z." The protagonist's object of desire may be external: the destruction of the shark in JAWS or internal maturity in BIG. In either case, the protagonist knows what he wants, and for many characters a simple, clear, conscious desire is sufficient” (138 McKee).


ACHIEVABIILTY OF GOAL: “The PROTAGONIST must have at least a chance to attain his desire” (139 McKee). “A protagonist … who's literally hopeless, who hasn't even the minimal capacity to achieve his desire, cannot interest us” (139 McKee). “The PROTAGONIST has the will and capacity to pursue the object of his conscious and/or unconscious desire to the end of the line. to the human limit established by setting and genre” (140 McKee). “If we study a protagonist at the moment of the Inciting Incident and weigh the sum of his willpower along with his intellectual, emotional, social, and physical capacities against the total forces of antagonism from within his humanity, plus his personal conflicts, antagonistic institutions, and environment, we should see clearly that he's an underdog. He has a chance to achieve what he wants-but only a chance. Although conflict from one aspect of his life may seem solvable, the totality of all levels should seem overwhelming as he begins his quest” (318 McKee).


UNCONSCIOUS NEED: “The PROTAGONIST may also have a self-contradictory unconscious desire” (138 McKee). “The most memorable, fascinating characters tend to have not only a conscious but an unconscious desire. Although these complex protagonists are unaware of their subconscious need, the audience senses it, perceiving in them an inner contradiction. The conscious and unconscious desires of a multidimensional protagonist contradict each other” (138).


“If … the protagonist has an unconscious desire, this becomes the Spine of the story. An unconscious desire is always more powerful and durable, with roots reaching to the protagonist's innermost self. When an unconscious desire drives the story, it allows the writer to create a far more complex character who may repeatedly change his conscious desire. MOBY DICK: If Melville had made Ahab sole protagonist, his novel would be a simple but exciting work of High Adventure, driven by the captain's monomania to destroy the white whale. But by adding Ishmael as dual protagonist, Melville enriched his story into a complex classic of the Education Plot. For the telling is in fact driven by Ishmael's unconscious desire to battle inner demons, seeking in himself the destructive obsessions he sees in Ahab-a desire that not only contradicts his conscious hope to survive Ahab's mad voyage, but may destroy him as it does Ahab” (195 McKee). 

Dramatic Need - Clip

Point of View - Text


“The second thing that makes good character is point of view. Point of view is defined as the way a person sees, or views, the world. Every person has an individual point of view. Point of view is a belief system, and as we know, what we believe to be true is true. There's an ancient Hindu scripture titled the Yoga Vasistha that states, ‘The World is as you see it.’ That means that what's inside our head-our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories-is reflected outside, in our everyday experience. It is our mind, how we see the world, that determines our experience. As one Great Being puts it: "You are the baker of the bread you eat" (Field 65).


Look for ways your characters can support and dramatize their points of view. Knowing your characters' points of view becomes a good way to generate conflict. If your characters believe in luck, they believe that there's a chance they can win the lottery. But anyone who believes that it's "fixed" is not going to waste a dollar on a pick” (66 Field). “This is Point of View-the physical angle we take in order to describe the behavior of our characters, their interaction with one another and the environment. How we make our choices of Point of View has enormous influence on how the reader reacts to the scene and how the director will later stage and shoot it” (363 McKee).

Point of View Clip

Attitude - Text


“The third thing that makes good character is attitude. Attitude is defined as a manner or opinion, and is a way of acting or feeling that reveals a person's personal opinion. An attitude, differentiated from a point of view, is an intellectual decision, so it can, and probably will, be classified by a judgment: right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative, angry or happy, cynical or naive, superior or inferior, liberal or conservative, optimistic or pessimistic” (67 Field).

Attitude Clip



“The fourth element that makes up good character is change, or transformation. Does your character change during the course of your screenplay? (Field 68) “Transformation, change, seems to be an essential aspect of our humanity, especially at this time in our culture” (Field 68). “Change, transformation, is a constant of life, and if you can impel some kind of emotional change within your character, it creates an arc of behavior and adds another dimension to who he/she is” (Field 69).


Consider “the journeys of the protagonists in THE ROAD WARRIOR and THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. In the former, Mel Gibson's Mad Max undergoes an inner transformation from self sufficient loner to self-sacrificing hero, but the emphasis of the story falls on the survival of the clan. In the latter, the life of William Hurt's travel writer changes as he remarries and becomes the much-needed father to a lonely boy, but the emphasis of the film falls on the resurrection of this man's spirit. His transformation from a man suffering a paralysis of emotions to a man free to love and feel is the film's dominant arc of change” (McKee 49). 

Transformation Clip

Arc - Insider