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Character Development
May 24, 2023

Screenwriting Experts Ted Wilkes and Phil Hughes On How to Balance Great Characters with a Strong Structure

One of the key factors that go into the early planning stages of planning a screenplay is deciding how to balance a solid structure that will serve you well with strong characters.

When it comes to structure vs character Wilkes and Hughes argue it isn’t a choice between the two. Nor do you have to work on one first. 

The premise of their latest book Character is Sturcutre is to make it clear to aspiring writers that character and structure are one and the same. 

Character vs structure

‘Our book is about good storytelling and how to tell a story well.’ says Wilkes.

‘We argue that, whatever story it is you are telling, you must select the correct protagonist, or Chosen One, to carry your narrative through and that, with this choice, comes a series of ‘must haves’ along the way.’

Phil and Ted, LondonSWF favourites finally release book ...
Ted Wilkes and Phil Hughes are the authors behind the new book Character is Structure that offers new insights into how we think about characters

‘Each of these Chosen Ones will have a different approach to your story, a different way of negotiating your story and, crucially, a different pay-off. In a well-told story the beginning and the end are inextricably linked.’ Wilkes explains.

‘The Chosen One who enters your story on page one will already have their ending mapped out. We know what their destiny is. And we are only too happy to tell you about it.; 

'The middle of your story is about revelations, choices, decisions, and crucial actions. We outline a number of key storytelling devices any writer can employ at the mid-point of their screenplay to heighten the dilemma, turn the hourglass, open up the story and give you the material you need to fill the second half of your script with conflict, obstacle, drama and most importantly fun.'

What are the 5 character types?

According to Wilkes and Hughes:

‘Character archetypes are useful for some writers in helping to establish and develop characters. In our experience characters grow with each draft, gaining in complexity and depth. Our book isn’t really about that.'

'We put forward the clear and simple thesis that there are four essential character types or Chosen Ones, with a fifth ‘inversion’ of each of the four. Yes, they are based on the motivation that is suggested by the story, but they are rather more complex than that as each Chosen One brings with them a set of skills, preconceptions, psychologies and predilections.'


'The Chosen One immediately accepts the challenge that is issued to them,' say Wilkes and Hughes. 'They are often the bravest of all Chosen Ones and are frequently already equipped for the task at hand, or at least believe that they are.'

Examples: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Dewey Finn (School of Rock), Mildred Hayes (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)


'The Chosen One reluctantly accepts the task, often at the request of another. They make a deal but the deal turns out to be an unfair bargain. They believe that the task will be easily achieved but they will discover that it is much more challenging than they could have imagined and the deal must ultimately be undone.'

Examples: Jojo Betzler (Jojo Rabbit), Neal Page (Trains, Planes and Automobiles), Shrek (Shrek)


'The Chosen One does not get an opportunity to accept the task. They are thrust into it due to a force outside of their control. They are often the most ill-equipped of Chosen Ones. Their journey becomes about understanding something crucial about themselves that will allow them to return home.'

Examples: Josh Baskin (Big), Phil Connors (Groundhog Day), Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

Unable (to believe)

'The Chosen One does not realise they are worthy and must be pulled into the story, often very reluctantly, by a mentor or tormentor. They are Chosen Ones who discover their worth through their experiences and through the lessons thrust upon them by their mentor or tormentor.'

Examples: Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), Andrew Neiman (Whiplash) Rocky Balboa (Rocky)


'The inversion of each of the previous Chosen Ones, the Mistaken Chosen One is the anti-hero in film. These Chosen Ones believe that they are a traditional, heroic Chosen One… but they are mistaken.'

Examples: Arthur Fleck (Joker), Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Dani Ardor (Midsommar)

How is Character as Structure different from Save the Cat?

At Arc Studio we’re very familiar with traditional methodologies such as Save the Cat and Dan Harmon’s Story Circle with our breakdown series, so we asked how Character as Structure fits into these templates and why it’s different.

'We do not give writers a structural template for their screenplays. There are plenty of excellent books out there that do that well,' Wilkes and Hughes explain.

'At the heart of our storytelling method is the realisation that the Hero’s Journey doesn’t work. Those 12 steps through a story simply don’t fit many tremendously successful narratives. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games doesn’t refuse the Call to Adventure. Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz doesn’t even receive a Call to Adventure. Arthur Fleck in Joker never embarks on the Road Back and certainly doesn’t Return with any kind of Elixir. When you’re faced with those kind of issues as a screenwriter, what do you do?'

Wilkes and Hughes say there are usually to answers. 'Change your script or face up to the fact that one of the most universally accepted structural tools in the world doesn’t fit? We could also pick holes in Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for similar reasons. Dan Harmon’s Story Circle is somewhat different as it is a simple, practical, non-prescriptive tool (for example Arthur Fleck still doesn’t return to his familiar situation)'

They add:

'The Chosen One’s involvement in your story is motivated first and foremost by their character rather than by the external force that pushes them into the heart of the narrative.  The key moments of change and decision are still there but there is an overarching imperative in the narrative and therefore the markers along the journey change depending upon the Chosen One. The Willing Chosen One, for instance, is destined change the world so they will often gather an army or group of like-minded individuals around them to complete their destiny. The Unable (To Believe) Chosen One does not think that they are worthy of being in your story so they need a secondary character, in many cases a mentor, to pull them into the story and teach them that they are worthy.'

Between them Wilkes and Hughes have decades of experience teaching film at different universities in the U.K. For students looking to go down the academic route, we asked them what’s the biggest mistake they see screenwriters making as they embark on their careers? 

‘When students attempt to tell stories that are like their favorite films rather than tell stories that are unique and close to them and their own interests it’s always a hard read. Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for.’ 

What’s the biggest success story you’ve seen since you’ve been teaching film?

'When students find their own voice it is always a massive step forward for them,' Wilkes and Hughes tell us. 'The way we teach is all about allowing the individual to discover the stories that mean something to them.' 

'Our students have gone on to win Royal Television Society awards and Emmys and we’ve had nominees for BAFTAs and Academy Awards. For a small course that has only been graduating students for 10 years we feel very proud of these achievements.'

Five second fire

Now we have some quick fire questions for Wilkes and Hughes:

How have you seen the industry change in recent years?

'Good stories are good stories and, wherever there is a home we will find a way to populate it with great narrative.'

Is it easier or harder in 2023 for budding screenwriters to get their screenplay optioned?

'It should be easier. There are more homes for stories, more platforms where stories are being told, and a bigger audience hungry for great storytelling. It’s still hard though.'

Where do you think the film industry will be in 10 years' time from now? 

'Wherever it is we will be teaching people to write for it.'

Do you think screenwriting students today should go to university to study or not?

'The honest answer is, it depends on which university they go to. There are plenty of programs out there. Some of them are great…'

 What is your favorite film of all time? And why?

'Citizen Kane is a masterpiece' says Hughes, 'However, I wouldn’t particularly care if I never saw it again. I would, however, be very sad if I never saw School of Rock again.'

Don’t forget if you need help formatting your screenplay to download our FREE screenwriting software today.

Character is Structure by Phil Hughes and Ted Wilkes (Bloomsbury, 2023) is available now.


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Screenwriting Experts Ted Wilkes and Phil Hughes On How to Balance Great Characters with a Strong Structure
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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