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March 11, 2021

‘Find Your Character’s Painful Truth’: Lessons from the Writer of ‘Wolfwalkers’

Looking for story ideas? Sometimes, the best way forward is to look backward, returning to centuries-old tales from your own culture and renewing them for modern audiences.

“Listening to stories that have been told around us, that echo around us, there’s something magical about it,” says Will Collins, who knows a thing or two about adapting myths and folklore. This week, his film Wolfwalkers – the gorgeous animated film from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon – was nominated for Best Animated Movie at the BAFTAs, with Oscar recognition tipped to follow.

“These stories are a part of our identity. And in these old stories, there are great lessons to be found and to be parsed. If we keep a connection to our older stories, we kind of keep our connection to the land around us.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Collins on this week’s episode of Script Apart – my podcast in which brilliant writers revisit their first drafts of acclaimed movies. The episode is a treasure trove of great screenwriting insight that came from one of the best animated movies of the last 12 months. Check it out below:

As well as discussing the ways Wolfwalkers took the ancient tale of the “Wolves of Ossory” and used it to confront contemporary problems (the climate crisis), he also reveals fascinating ways he changed his story after his first draft to make the story more emotional and engaging. Originally, Wolfwalkers’ lead character was a boy – until Collins and the film’s creative team realized that there was much more dramatic potential in making the character a girl. “Women faced different expectations to men in 17th century Ireland,” he explains. “Being able to add that struggle really brought the story to life in a much more potent way.”

Collins also explains his approach to storytelling – take a protagonist, give them a “painful truth” and fashion a story around it in which the character is forced to face that truth. “That helps me in developing my story. It’s something I still lean on today,” he says, going on to explain why it’s such an effective narrative template.

Script Apart (supported by Arc Studio Pro and Coverfly), is a podcast about the first-draft secrets of great movies. Listen to the other great episodes here!

‘Find Your Character’s Painful Truth’: Lessons from the Writer of ‘Wolfwalkers’
Al Horner

Al Horner is a London-based journalist, screenwriter and presenter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Empire Magazine, GQ, BBC, Little White Lies, TIME Magazine and more.

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