What I learned from The Godfather this week

I’ve been thinking lately about how to make sure the readers know how important one of my other characters is to my protagonist, Drake. And I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I learn how to do things is by reading great books and/or watching great films and seeing how they did it.

Low and behold, while I was watching The Godfather III this week, I got it. If you’ll remember this story, at the end of the movie, Michael Corleone’s daughter is killed because she is standing next to him and the assassin’s bullet hits her by mistake. Now, Al Pacino’s great acting aside, how do we know this event is going to be devastating to Michael Corleone? In other words, how do we know that the one character is important to the other? Because he tells us.

In one scene where the family is in Sicily, Michael and his ex-wife Kay are having lunch together. He says something like this to her – ‘I’m not the man you think I am. I told you I didn’t want to become a man like my father. But I loved my father and he was in danger. And then you and the children were in danger.’ There it is, right there – the emotional heart of the story and what makes Michael Corleone tick. His family is the most important thing to him and the implication is, he’ll do anything to keep his family safe.

Earlier there is another scene between him and his daughter where he is even more explicit. In this scene, his daughter asks him if the Corleone Foundation, which she is the head of, is legitimate. He says yes. Then he goes on to say how important she is to him. And his last words are really telling – ‘I would burn in hell to keep you safe.’ There it is – the stakes are set. He would sacrifice himself for her because that is how important she is to him.

So I have it. Now it’s just a matter of imagining the scenes that fit my characters and my story.

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