Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Journey Through the History of Film

I consider myself a viable movie buff. I know a great deal about movies on the screen and behind the scenes. But I also know that I can't claim to be a true cultured movie maestro until I have truly enveloped myself in the history of film... meaning that I need to be familiar with the movies that are considered the greatest films in history. So after some study, I have compiled a list of 226 "great" films that I still need to watch/re-watch. After seeing a film, I will post my brief review/rating of it to the right, and later these reviews will become a full post - 50 or so at a time. Here's the list:
  1. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  2. 42nd Street (1933)
  3. 9 To 5 (1980)
  4. Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  5. Adam's Rib (1949)
  6. Adventures Of Robin Hood, The (1938)
  7. Affair To Remember, An (1957)
  8. African Queen, The (1951)
  9. All About Eve (1950)
  10. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
  11. All That Jazz (1979)
  12. Amadeus (1984) (Theatrical Cut)
  13. American Graffiti (1973)
  14. American In Paris, An (1951)
  15. American President, The (1995)
  16. Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)
  17. Anna Karenina (1935)
  18. Annie Hall (1977)
  19. Apartment, The (1960)
  20. Arthur (1981)
  21. Awful Truth, The (1937)
  22. Babe (1995)
  23. Ball Of Fire (1941)
  24. Bananas (1971)
  25. Band Wagon, The (1953)
  26. Barefoot In The Park (1967)
  27. Being There (1979)
  28. Ben-Hur (1959)
  29. Best Years Of Our Lives, The (1946)
  30. Birdman Of Alcatraz (1962)
  31. Birds, The (1963)
  32. Birth Of A Nation, The (1915)
  33. Black Stallion, The (1979)
  34. Born Yesterday (1950)
  35. Boys Town (1938)
  36. Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
  37. Breaking Away (1979)
  38. Bridge On The River Kwai, The (1957)
  39. Bridges Of Madison County, The (1995)
  40. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  41. Cabaret (1972)
  42. Camille (1937)
  43. Cape Fear (1962)
  44. Casablanca (1942)
  45. Cat Ballou (1965)
  46. China Syndrome, The (1979)
  47. Citizen Kane (1941)
  48. City Lights (1931)
  49. City Slickers (1991)
  50. Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
  51. Color Purple, The (1985)
  52. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  53. Dances With Wolves (1990)
  54. Dark Victory (1939)
  55. Day At The Races, A (1937)
  56. Day The Earth Stood Still, The (1951)
  57. Dead Poets Society (1989)
  58. Defiant Ones, The (1958)
  59. Dial M For Murder (1954)
  60. Diary Of Anne Frank, The (1959)
  61. Dinner At Eight (1933)
  62. Dirty Dancing (1987)
  63. Dirty Dozen, The (1967)
  64. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  65. Duck Soup (1933)
  66. Father Of The Bride (1950)
  67. Fiddler On The Roof (1971)
  68. Frankenstein (1931)
  69. Freshman, The (1925)
  70. From Here To Eternity (1953)
  71. Funny Girl (1968)
  72. Gandhi (1982)
  73. Gaslight (1944)
  74. General, The (1927)
  75. Ghost And Mrs. Muir, The (1947)
  76. Giant (1956)
  77. Gold Rush, The (1925)
  78. Goldfinger (1964)
  79. Gone With The Wind (1939)
  80. Goodbye Girl, The (1977)
  81. Graduate, The (1967)
  82. Grapes Of Wrath, The (1940)
  83. Great Dictator, The (1940)
  84. Great Escape, The (1963)
  85. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)
  86. Gunga Din (1939)
  87. Guns Of Navarone, The (1961)
  88. Harold And Maude (1972)
  89. Heartbreak Kid, The (1972)
  90. High Noon (1952)
  91. Hoosiers (1986)
  92. Horse Feathers (1932)
  93. Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The (1939)
  94. Hustler, The (1961)
  95. In The Heat Of The Night (1967)
  96. Intolerance (1916)
  97. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
  98. It Happened One Night (1934)
  99. It's A Gift (1934)
  100. It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
  101. Jazz Singer, The (1927)
  102. Jezebel (1939)
  103. Judgment At Nuremberg (1961)
  104. King And I, The (1956)
  105. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
  106. Lady Eve, The (1941)
  107. Laura (1944)
  108. Lilies Of The Field (1963)
  109. Little Caesar (1931)
  110. Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
  111. Love Story (1970)
  112. Magnificent Seven, The (1960)
  113. Maltese Falcon, The (1941)
  114. Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)
  115. Marty (1955)
  116. Meet John Doe (1941)
  117. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
  118. Miracle Of Morgan's Creek, The (1944)
  119. Miracle Worker, The (1962)
  120. Modern Times (1936)
  121. Monkey Business (1931)
  122. Moonstruck (1987)
  123. Morocco (1930)
  124. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
  125. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936)
  126. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  127. Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
  128. My Man Godfrey (1936)
  129. National Velvet (1944)
  130. Navigator, The (1924)
  131. Night At The Opera, A (1935)
  132. Night Of The Hunter, The (1955)
  133. Night Of The Living Dead (1968) (Cut)
  134. Ninotchka (1939)
  135. Norma Rae (1979)
  136. North By Northwest (1959)
  137. Notorious (1946)
  138. Now, Voyager (1942)
  139. Nutty Professor, The (1963)
  140. On Golden Pond (1981)
  141. On The Town (1949)
  142. Out Of Africa (1985)
  143. Palm Beach Story, The (1942)
  144. Patton (1970)
  145. Phantom Of The Opera, The (1925)
  146. Philadelphia (1993)
  147. Philadelphia Story, The(1940)
  148. Picnic (1955)
  149. Picture Of Dorian Gray, The (1945)
  150. Pillow Talk (1959)
  151. Place In The Sun, A(1951)
  152. Planet Of The Apes (1968)
  153. Porgy And Bess (1959)
  154. Poseidon Adventure, The (1972)
  155. Postman Always Rings Twice, The (1946)
  156. Pride Of The Yankees, The (1942)
  157. Producers, The (1968)
  158. Public Enemy, The (1931)
  159. Quiet Man, The (1952)
  160. Raisin In The Sun, A (1961)
  161. Raising Arizona (1987)
  162. Random Harvest (1942)
  163. Rebecca (1940)
  164. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
  165. Red River (1948)
  166. Right Stuff, The (1983)
  167. Road To Morocco (1942)
  168. Rocky (1976)
  169. Roman Holiday (1953)
  170. Roxanne (1987)
  171. Sabrina (1954)
  172. Safety Last (1923)
  173. Scarface: The Shame Of A Nation (1932)
  174. Seabiscuit (2003)
  175. Searchers, The (1956)
  176. Sergeant York (1941)
  177. Seven Year Itch, The (1955)
  178. Shane (1953)
  179. She Done Him Wrong (1933)
  180. Sheik, The (1921)
  181. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
  182. Shot In The Dark, A (1964)
  183. Show Boat (1936)
  184. Silver Streak (1976)
  185. Sleeper (1973)
  186. Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
  187. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  188. Sons Of The Desert (1933)
  189. Sound Of Music, The (1965)
  190. Sounder (1972)
  191. Spartacus (1960)
  192. Spirit Of St. Louis, The (1957)
  193. Splendor In The Grass (1961)
  194. Stagecoach (1939)
  195. Star Is Born, A (1954)
  196. Strangers On A Train (1951)
  197. Streetcar Named Desire, A (1951)
  198. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
  199. Sunrise (1927)
  200. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  201. Swing Time (1936)
  202. Take The Money And Run (1969)
  203. Ten Commandments, The (1956)
  204. Thief Of Bagdad, The (1924)
  205. Thin Man, The (1934)
  206. Thing From Another World, The (1951)
  207. Third Man, The (1949)
  208. To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
  209. To Catch A Thief (1955)
  210. To Have And Have Not (1944)
  211. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
  212. Topper (1937)
  213. Touch Of Evil (1958)
  214. Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
  215. Two For The Road (1967)
  216. Victor/Victoria (1982)
  217. Way Down East (1920)
  218. Way We Were, The (1973)
  219. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
  220. What's Up, Doc? (1972)
  221. White Heat (1949)
  222. Witness For The Prosecution (1958)
  223. Woman Of The Year (1942)
  224. Wuthering Heights (1939)
  225. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  226. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writers on Writing; Let Your Characters Tell You the Story

Joyce Maynard, a popular columnist and novelist, wrote the following article for The New York Times back in February of 2003. Download the text at the end of the post.

WRITERS ON WRITING; Let Your Characters Tell You the Story

By JOYCE MAYNARD
Published: February 24, 2003
A number of years back, a murder took place near where I lived in New Hampshire that left the citizens of the state riveted to their televisions. A young teacher at a small town high school -- married, in her 20's, with aspirations to become a television journalist -- was accused of plotting the murder of her husband.

Part of what attracted people to following the case was that the accused woman, Pamela Smart, seemed so unlikely a killer. Pretty and well spoken, she had appeared on our television screens many times in the weeks before her arrest, making impassioned pleas that anyone who might know something come forward to assist the police in locating her husband's killer.

That person turned out to be Pamela Smart herself, with the assistance of a 15-year-old boy from the school where she taught, who said he was her lover.

I had so many questions. If in fact she had committed the crime as charged, what was the motive? What would inspire a teenager to put a gun to the head of a man he'd never met before and pull the trigger?

In my years as a journalist I'd conducted my share of interviews. But even if I could gain entrance to the jail, I knew that the questions I most burned to ask would never find their answers there.

I believed the best hope for locating my answers lay in the creation of fictional characters, modeled in some ways after the principals in the real case. And so, without a clear idea of where my story was headed -- only a knowledge borne from living much of my life in small New Hampshire towns where I'd known boys not unlike the one now sitting in the county jail accused of murder -- I began to write.

The first voice I adopted was that of the boy -- a leap of imagination, you might say, for a woman then in her late 30's whose contact with 15-year-old boys, when she was herself that age, was only as a quiet and shy observer in my high school classroom and my own small town. I became the boy for a while, then I was his mother, then I was the schoolteacher, and then the disaffected girl who would ultimately win favor with the boy and the teacher by providing them with a gun.

Here's what I believe happens when a writer begins her story with an authentically realized character (as opposed to one from central casting, formed out of the necessity to see a certain preordained action take place). If she allows him to take shape slowly on the page, if she resists the urge to make assumptions based on what she thinks he should do, he'll take on a life of his own and very nearly reveal the direction of the story.

The process that comes to mind here, that most resembles the one I undergo when I embark on bringing a character to life on the page, is that old art class exercise I still love, the contour drawing. You set your pencil on the paper and keep your eye firmly locked on the face of your subject, and then you let the pencil begin to move. You don't look down at the paper. You don't allow yourself to tidy up the image, and because of that, the image you create is likely to be a strange one.

An eye may show up on a cheek, the brow intersecting an ear. The strange thing is, an honestly executed contour drawing, created by a patient hand and a more patient eye, often conveys a more accurate rendering of the subject than one of some more deftly executed suitable-for-framing likeness.

In every novel I've written, I began with character, and allowed the drama to emerge out of human nature and relationships. Whether or not the story I constructed in my novel ''To Die For'' ultimately answered the questions posed by the real Smart case never seemed of import to me. I didn't write a novel about that case, and the only authenticity I cared about was that I remain true to the nature and motivations of the characters I'd invented. By the time I reached the point in my telling of the story where the boy entered the condo and shot the husband, I didn't hesitate or agonize over the scene. I knew what he would do and say, same as I knew the woman would turn on him after.

It doesn't always work, this practice of ceding one's control to one's character out of the faith that he will lead you to the story. A while back, shortly after a high school shooting in San Diego in which the gunman had been a 14-year-old boy, I embarked again on a quest to locate the answers rarely uncovered by journalists in cases like that one: Why?

Once again I took on the voice of a boy (a different kind of boy this time: wisecracking child of divorce, abandoned by his mother, taunted at his school) and let him start talking. I constructed a world for him: the apartment complex where he lived, with the TV always on, the skate park where a bunch of boys stole his board, the first day he showed up with it. Two hundred pages later I'd located ample evidence for understanding his pain and sense of isolation, his longing to be heard.

I wrote his story right up to the morning he was due to go to school and open fire. But when the moment came to write the scene in which he put the gun in his backpack, I knew I'd failed. I still couldn't find believable motivation for that one small act, so crucial to everything else. I put the novel in a drawer.

In the fall of 2001 -- a couple hundred pages into a different work of fiction -- I stopped through New York City to see my older son for a few days. My plane landed on Sept. 9.

After the events of that week, the novel I thought I was writing no longer made sense to me. Or at least it seemed impossible at that moment to immerse myself in a story that did not in some way take into account the experiences of those days and the ones that followed, the sense of loss and the questions: What do we do now? Where does hope lie?

I spent close to a month in New York, walking for miles, studying the faces on fliers, listening to people on the street. I found myself focused in particular on the experience of young people during that time, tried to imagine my own children, if they had seen me go out the door that morning and never return.

Sometime over the course of those weeks I heard the story of a woman killed in the towers who had left two children, one by a former husband, one the child of the husband she'd been married to the day she died. Now the older child would be leaving the home of her little brother and stepfather to go live with her father.

I didn't know the particulars of that family's story and would not have invaded their terrible grief to ask. But as a parent, divorced many years, whose own children had navigated the territory between the worlds of divided parents, and as the mother of three nearly-grown children whose greatest source of strength outside themselves lay with one another, I knew some things about divisions in families and connections among sibling, and what I didn't know I believed the process of creating characters might reveal to me.

The novel I ended up writing that fall, winter and spring (''The Usual Rules,'' which has just been published) was not the one I was embarked on, that I'd planned to write that fall. My story was not, in the end, about Sept. 11 at all, and certainly not about the family whose story I heard mentioned that day.

To my surprise and relief, the novel I wrote turned out not to be a tragic one either, though the story I told was touched off by tragedy. The girl I created on the page, faced with the death of her mother, separation from a brother and stepfather she loved and the prospect of going to live with a father she barely knew, turned out to be a strong and ultimately hopeful person. I would not have been able to imagine, when I embarked on her story, how it might be that a young person could rebuild a life after the events of that day. My character told me.

Maynard, Joyce. "WRITERS ON WRITING; Let Your Characters Tell You the Story." The New York Times 24 Feb. 2003. Web. 21 Jul. 2013.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting to Know Your Characters

Focusing mainly on piecing together your protagonist and antagonist, Crickett Rumley offers 8 questions and an exercise to test your character in action.

Getting to Know Your Characters
Screenwriting with Crickett Rumley

It's worth getting to know all of your characters. After all, they are ALL involved in telling your story. But the most important ones to get to know, at least initially, are the protagonist and the antagonist. Keep them in mind as you address the following questions.
  1. If you were going to write a one paragraph biography about him, what would you write? Where was he born, raised, educated? Who is his family? What's his greatest accomplishment?
  2. What is your character like on the inside? 'What does he think about himself? What are his fears, strengths, weaknesses? List five elements of the ESSENCE of the character.
  3. What does your character want out of life? List his goals, dreams, ambitions. Does your character actively pursue goals, or does something hold him back?
  4. What are your character's special skills? Greatest talent?
  5. What is your character's pet peeve? What annoys him the most?
  6. What is your character's greatest failure? Biggest loss? How have these affected him?
  7. Describe the current situation of your character's life. Does he have a job? Between jobs? Recently fired? Is the character in school? What are the important relationships in his life? How are those going? How does the character feel about his current situation? Is he satisfied? Does he want to change something? What? How?
  8. Given the characteristics, qualities, and goals you've developed for your character, which ones uniquely qualify him to be involved in the story you are creating? Why does this character get to be in this movie?
EXERCISE: Pick 5 of the characteristics you identified. Write a scene in which you introduce this character to your audience for the first time, revealing these characteristics through character actions, interactions, reactions to do so.


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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Character Bio Questions

To help in simplifying the character development process, Sonny Calderon has put together a series of questions that you can use to get the creative juices flowing and really dig deep into who your characters are. Download the file on the bottom of the post for offline reference.

CHARACTER BIO QUESTIONS
By Sonny Calderon
  1. What does she think of her father? What does she hate / like about him? What kind of influence did he have on her?
  2. Her mother?
  3. Her brothers, sisters?
  4. What type of discipline did she receive at home? Strict? Lenient?
  5. Was she overprotected? Did she feel rejection or affection growing up?
  6. What was the economic status of the family? Any adverse situations? Divorce, illness, alcoholism, etc?
  7. What was the religious atmosphere of the family? How does she herself feel about religion?
  8. Is she smart, intelligent, slow-witted?
  9. From what grade did she graduate? How does she see herself - as smart, intelligent, uneducated? How does this education and intelligence manifest itself in her speech, vocabulary, pronunciation?
  10. Did she like school, teachers, schoolmates? What was she interested and involved in most? What are her political interests?
  11. What does she do for a living? How does she see her profession? What does she like about it or hate about it?
  12. Did she ever travel? Where? Why? What does she remember of her time abroad?
  13. What were her deepest disillusionments in life?
  14. What are her manners like? What is her type of hero? Whom does she hate?
  15. Who are her friends? Her life mates? Her cohabitators? What is her type of ideal partner?
  16. What does she want from her partner? What does she think and feel about sex?
  17. What are her hobbies and interests?
  18. How is her imagination? Daydreaming a lot? Worried most of the time? Living in memories?
  19. What does her room look like? Her taste? Her furniture, hair, clothes, the quality of her house?
  20. What role does she play at home? What role would she like to play?
  21. Does she take drugs, drink? Does she feel self-righteous? Revengeful? Does she always rationalize her errors? How does she accept disasters and failures? Does she like to suffer? Does she like to see others suffer?
  22. When facing new things is she basically negative, positive, suspicious, hostile, enthusiastic? What does she find stupid? How is her sense of humor? Is she aware of herself, her weak spots, idiosyncrasies? Is she capable of self-irony?
  23. How badly does she want to get what she claims are her life objectives? How does she pursue them?
  24. How is her health? What does she do for it?
  25. What is her self-image like? How does she feel about her weight, size, figure? What kind of walk does she have? Does she want to be visible or invisible? Does she want to be younger, older, more important, etc.?
  26. How are her gestures? Vigorous, weak, controlled, compulsive? Is she energetic or sluggish?
  27. Is her voice shrill, weak, strong? What kind of pitch and rhythm?
  28. Do you like her? Hate her? Why do you need to write about her? Why should people be excited about her?
  29. What does she think of children in general? Children of her own?
  30. What are her weaknesses? Real or imagined, known or ignored?
  31. What does she fear most?
  32. What is her life dream?
  33. Does she drive? What kind of car? What does she listen to when driving?
  34. What kind of music does she listen to?
  35. What kind of food does she like?
  36. What does she read?
  37. Does she watch TV? Which shows?
  38. What movies does she like?
  39. What does she do for fun?
  40. What does she say to herself when she's absolutely alone?
  41. What does she dream about (literally, when she's asleep)?
  42. Would she rather get her way by lying or by telling the truth?
  43. Does she feel a sense of joy about her daily life or drudgery?

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Characters and Development

What follows is a hefty but BRILLIANT guide for creating the characters that will populate your story. This text is pulled from the second chapter of The Writer's Partner: 1001 Breakthrough Ideas to Stimulate Your Imagination by Martin Roth. I recommend downloading the PDF at the bottom of the post for further study and use.

Characters and Development 

LET'S TALK PEOPLE
  People!
  That's the name of the game.
  No matter how clever, exciting, funny or dramatic your plot may be, the characters that people it are not only indispensable elements of your story, but they are also the most important element in any story.
  They are crucial to the theme and the plot.
  People care about people, not just about things or happenings. The more interesting and fascinating the characters you draw, the better your story will become and the more the reader or viewer will care about what happens to them.
  A good writer will let his characters tell him where they will go, how they will behave, and what they will do to accomplish their aims and goals.
  A character with a college education will think and behave differently than a high school dropout. Someone who has always known wealth will think and behave differently than someone who has always been poor. A character who has grown up in a happy household will think and behave differently than someone who was abused as a child.
  The protagonist in a story should always be someone the reader or viewer likes and cares about. This is not to say that your protagonist must start off as a goody two-shoes. But the spark must be there to make the reader/viewer want to see change occur in that character along the way.
  No matter how harsh or seemingly uncaring your protagonist may appear at the beginning, there must be some redeeming feature that you will ignite at some point. Usually that point is the protagonist's "moment of truth," when he or she decides what the right thing to do is and then does it.
  In many stories, there is a second protagonist, usually the first protagonist's love interest or a character with another relationship to the primary protagonist.
  This character, like other major characters, should be fully drawn for change and growth to take place. At some point in the story, something important happens to further the relationship with the protagonist or conclude, it for better or for worse.
  The protagonist in your story is, naturally, the hero of your piece.
  That does not mean he or she is Superman or Superwoman. The protagonist(s) should have weaknesses and most important, an Achilles' heel. The protagonist must be vulnerable. He or she must be able to lose, be hurt, or even die, depending on the story.

GETTING THE PROTAGONIST UP AND DOWN THE TREE
  The three basic elements of storytelling are to get your protagonist up a tree, throw rocks at him or her, and then get your protagonist safely down the tree.
  In other words, get your protagonist into some kind of problem either directly or indirectly (see pages 59-61 on deliberate and nondeliberate involvement), putting him or her in conflict with an antagonist. Place obstacles in the way of the protagonist as he or she attempts to resolve the problem, and then get your protagonist to resolve the problem, achieving his or her original goal.
  Protagonists must have a purpose or goal to attain, whether they set out to accomplish it or it is thrust upon them.
  Examples of purposes might be to live, to love, to be happy, to prosper, to recover, to discover, to reach a goal, for the protagonist or another.
  In developing your protagonist, bear in mind your protagonist's purpose. Who that protagonist will be dictates how that protagonist will accept the challenge, deal with obstacles, and how he or she will manage to overcome those obstacles to reach a satisfactory conclusion. For example, a character with a college education or someone with some specific skill or knowledge would function differently than a character not possessing that education, skill, or knowledge.
  Suppose the protagonist is someone who loved the great outdoors and had camped, hunted, hiked, etc. Wouldn't that individual have a better chance of surviving in the wilderness than a character born and bred in the city, and whose closest encounter with a tree was in a local park?
  Now reverse the situation.
  Wouldn't an urban, street-wise individual survive the city jungle better than a character who was pretty much a country bumpkin?

WHO'S THROWING THE ROCKS?
  Now let's talk about the antagonist in your story.
  In order to create conflict (which every story must have), there must be someone or something working against your protagonist, and that antagonist should always be a worthy adversary.
  The competition and conflict should not be easy to overcome for the protagonist.
  Another thing... although we often refer to our protagonist as the one in the "white hat," and the antagonist as the one in the "black hat," the more human the antagonist is, the more real that antagonist becomes.
  But . . .

NOT ALL PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS ARE HUMAN!
  Although most writers think of protagonists and antagonists as humans, protagonists in recent stories included Flipper, Lassie, Gentle Ben, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion, Judy the Chimp, Rin Tin Tin, and most recently, The Lion King.
  Although many times the elements are considered obstacles in the path of the protagonist, there are stories where such obstacles are the antagonists.
  Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is an example. The old fisherman's duel was with the sea and not with a human being.
  In Hitchcock's The Birds, the antagonist was the birds, as was the shark in Jaws and the bees In The Swarm.
  Still another consideration is the will to overcome a handicap which again is not the typical human antagonist. Although a handicap could be considered an obstacle, it might be the antagonist of the piece. Some of the following nonhumans or elements might be considered as protagonists or antagonists:

A curse
A domestic pet
Acid rain
Air pollution
Aliens from outer space
An intellectual handicap
Birds
Blazing light
Contagious disease
Darkness
Drought
Dust storm
Earthquake
Famine
Farm animal
Fears and phobias
Fire
Flood
Hurricane
Insect
Killing coldwave
Killing heatwave
Monster
Physical handicap
Race or ethnicity
Radioactivity
Reptile
Robot
Rodent
Sand storm
Sea creature
Spirit from another world
Storm
The sea
Tidal wave
Tornado
Typhoon
Volcanic eruption
Wild animal
Wild but caring animal
  Excluding the elements, of course, you should develop a character bio for nonhuman protagonists and antagonists to have better insight into their behavior and motivation.

DOES THE SITUATION DECIDE THE CHARACTERS OR DO THE CHARACTERS INITIATE THE SITUATION? WHICH COMES FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
  That depends on you.
  Sometimes the writer comes up with a great, fully-developed character and then goes searching for a situation or a plot in which to place that character.
  Then again, and more often than not, the writer comes up with a situation and then seeks to "people" it. The type of character you choose to put into that situation will determine how the plot must be structured and how that character will handle the situation.
  For example, if your protagonist is a police officer assigned to a murder case, that character will face the problem as a police officer, though he or she may take certain liberties that real-life police officers would not take.
  However, if the protagonist you choose to involve in the murder case happens to be a used-car salesman with no investigative experience, naturally the approach that character will take will be worlds apart from the way the law enforcement protagonist would take.
  The choice is yours as to what you start with, the plot or the character.
  Whichever the case, the character you eventually choose must be fully developed. The following list can aid you in developing the characters in your story.
Where was the character born and raised?
Who were the parents?
What was the character's childhood like?
What members of a family does the character have?
What education did the character have?
What kind of student was the character?
What special skills or knowledge does the character possess?
What hobbies did or does the character have?
What are the bad habits of the character?
What are some of the traits of the character-emotional, mental, and physical?
With what kind of job or profession is the character occupied, past and present?
And finally, what are some of the character's past and present relationships?

  If you use the next lists, your characters can easily become people that you and the reader or viewer can come to know and understand.
  Armed with the knowledge of who a character is, let the character help you decide the course he or she will take in your story and what changes in that character will be brought about as the plot develops.
  For example, let us say our protagonist is a young man by the name of Joe Smith.
  Who is Joe Smith?
  Select one or more items from the list titled PLACE OF ORIGIN. For example, Joe was born in a factory town in the northern U.S. From PARENTS, select one or more items. For example, his parents were poor, working, religious, strict, but loving parents.
  From CHILDHOOD, select one or more items. Joe was an only child but came from a close, very happy family.
  From FAMILY MEMBERS, select one or more items. Joe's family consisted of his mother, father, paternal grandfather, and his uncle.
  From EDUCATION, select one or more items. Joe attended public elementary school, public high school, a state college. He also served in the army and received MILITARY TRAINING.
  From EDUCATION BEHAVIOR, select one or more items. Joe was a classroom cut-up but also a good student.
  From SPECIAL SKILLS select one or more items. Over the years, Joe has taken up sky diving, become a sports enthusiast, become a good hunter, learned how to fly in the service, has handled weapons (service), become expert in survival (service), is mechanically inclined, is a good pool player. . .
  From HOBBIES, select one or more items. Joe began collecting baseball cards when he was a kid and still collects them. He's into camping, fishing, sports, and weekly card playing with some close friends.
  From BAD HABITS, select one or more items. Joe doesn't have many bad habits, but he is impatient or short tempered, and he is not the neatest person in his housekeeping.
  From GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS, select one 'or more items. Joe is honest, a romanticist, humorous, a sometimes drinker, happy-go-lucky, nonsmoker, at times impractical, a sensitive man, often curious, and usually optimistic. He's a loyal friend, is danger-loving, can be charming his own way, is not a quitter.
  From MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, select one or more items. He is mature, tall and gangly, wears contact lenses in preference eyeglasses, has prematurely graying hair, suffers from a fear of heights, is his own man, strong-willed and downright stubborn at times.
  From PROFESSIONS and JOBS, select one or more items. He worked way through school as a short-order cook and as a part-time security guard. He played pro football but was injured early in his career. He then worked as a salesman but decided to get into law enforcement.
  From RELATIONSHIPS and MARITAL STATUS, select one or more items. Joe is divorced after one marriage. He has one small child he sees often as .he can. He has a number of friends through professional and social contacts. He has no steady girlfriend at present.
  From CURRENT LIFESTYLE, select one or more items. Joe is a bachelor and enjoys doing his own thing, shies away from commitment to another marriage, dates attractive single women, lives a fairly low-key lifestyle.
  From HOME, or DWELLING and VEHICLES, select one or more items. Joe lives in a small, inexpensive, one bedroom rented apartment in a middle class section of the city. He drives an expensive sports car, the one luxury he affords himself.
  We have now developed the skeletal outline of Joe Smith and put some meat on the bones.
  The creativity of the writer should now come into play to further embellish the character of Joe Smith by additional suggestions from the lists or any other ideas the writer can come up with.
  A quick suggestion: to get a good physical description of a character, you might refer to photographs of friends or from magazines.

CHARACTER BACKGROUND
Place of Origin
At sea
Big city
Desert
Eastern U.S
Factory town
Farm
Foreign country
Foster home
Great Plains
Island
Lower-class neighborhood
Middle-class neighborhood
Midwest
Military post
Mountains
Northern U.S.
On the road (migrant)
Orphanage
Prison
Ranch
Reservation
Resort
River or lake front
Seacoast
Slums
Small town
Southern U.S.
Swamps
Wealthy neighborhood
Western U.S

Parents
Abusive
Bigoted
Conservative
Deceased
Divorced
Easy-going
Educated
Famous
Foreign-born
Handicapped
Liberal
Loving
Middle class
Neurotic
One-parent household
Poor
Professional
Religious
Retired
Rich
Separated
Sick
Strict
Talented
U.S.-born
Uneducated
Unknown
Unskilled

Childhood
Abused
Broken home
Close family
Juvenile delinquent
Large family
Loner
Normal
Only child
Raised by relative
Religious upbringing
Sickly
Spoiled
Two sets of parents
Unhappy
Very happy
Withdrawn

Family Members
Aunt
Brother
Brother-in-law
Cousin
Daughter
Daughter-in-law
Father
Father-in-law
Former husband
Former wife
Foster parent
Godparents
Husband
Maternal grandfather
Maternal grandmother
Mother
Mother-in-law
Nephew
Niece
Paternal grandfather
Paternal grandmother
Paternal son, daughter
Sister
Sister-in-law
Son
Son-in-law
Stepbrother
Stepfather
Stepmother
Stepsister
Uncle
Wife

Education
Art school
Boarding school
Business college
Dance school
Educated at home
Junior college
Language school
Law school
Medical school
Military school
Military training
No schooling
Parochial or religious school
Post graduate
Prep school
Preschool
Private elementary
Public high school
Reform school
School dropout
School for the handicapped
Self-educated
Special school
Trade school
University
War college

Roth, Martin. The Writer's Partner: 1001 Breakthrough Ideas to Stimulate Your Imagination. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2001.

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