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No Film School - The Scorpion & The Frog

The Scorpion and the Frog".  This is a reference used often in writers rooms to legitimize the complexity of a character.  If you're not familiar, the fable goes like this: 

"A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a babbling stream. It's too treacherous to cross, so the scorpion nicely asks the frog to carry him across on its back. This makes the frog a little suspicious. It asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” That sound reasoning relaxes the frog's nerves. So he allows the scorpion to climb aboard and they shove off across the flowing water. They get halfway across the stream and the scorpion stings the frog directly in the middle of his back. The frog feels the onset of the scorpion's poison and starts to sink. He manages one dying breath: "Why?!" And the scorpion replies: “I can't help it. It’s my nature…”

The point is, give your character a fatal flaw and let that be their downfall even if it contradicts logic.   The greatest characters hold many contradictions. 

For instance, in Chinatown, Jake's backstory is that when he worked in Chinatown he tried to help a woman even though his superior told him he was meddling where he shouldn't and that when it came to their job, he should just do "as little possible".  Jake couldn't help himself. He's a person who needs to be in control, needs to fix a situation. He tried to help the woman she wound up dying.  We don't get any more information than that but we don't need any.  All we need to know is that because Jake couldn't "stay out of it", he got a woman killed.  The situation repeats itself when he tries to help Evelyn Mulwray.  All logic would tell him to learn from his past mistake... why would he stick his neck out again, why would he try to help her after the trauma of what happened to him last time?  Why?  Because he's a scorpion.  

Another way to look at it is through the famous Walt Whitman quote: 

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."  

Make your characters large. Make them contain multitudes.  Give them a flaw and let that flaw be their downfall despite all logic.  

This is how you keep a character from being "one dimensional".  

I've attached a link to an article from the "No Film School" website talking about the fable.  No Film School is another great resource website with cool insights.

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