What are you asking your readers to do? What do you want your readers to believe about your characters and their circumstances? Having a statement or question will put your story in perspective and help you outline your characters and plot. A controlling question or statement almost always has the purpose of exploring a certain moral or philosophy. Your theme needs to be woven through every scene and affect all characters in different ways.

The themes of Scarface explore the extreme consequences of immorality and excessive materialism. There are focal shots of beautiful women, lavish houses and luxury cars throughout the film; these scenes are shot from Tony’s admiring perspective. With each scene until the triumph, Tony’s ideal life grazes his fingertips, so close, just a fraction out of reach. Through increasing violence, Tony shows that he will get what he wants no matter what. But it is this violence that will also lead him to his demise.


How do you show your answer to your controlling question or statement? Your overt ideas and imagery work alongside your plot, or even guide your plot. They play a crucial part in situating your character and how they change and are changed by their environment. Your overt ideas and imagery often relate to how your characters perceive their wants and how they act on their resentments.  

The overt ideas and imagery in Scarface are about power, wealth, and what it costs to ‘have it all’. Elvira’s introductory description in the script is, ‘…the most beautiful blonde he’s ever seen. The lady is coming down the glassed-in elevator, adjusting her $10,000 Yves St. Laurent burgundy dinner dress.’ When this description translates to the screen, Elvira becomes the trinity of wealth, power, and beauty that dominates Tony’s life. Initially, Elvira is Tony’s ultimate want and later becomes his need as he grows more dependent on possessing her. This leads him to act on his resentment of Lopez by killing him and assuming the power and relationship he had with Elvira.


Now that your character has achieved their goals, how does it impact them? What are you really trying to tell your readers about your character’s struggle and survival? Your subtle ideas and imagery should be something lingering in the background that can almost go unnoticed by your characters and readers. It can be anything, a tangible object or an abstract idea or emotion, as in Scarface. The subtle ideas and imagery often reflect your character’s needs and fears.

Tony is initially perceived as ambitious and viewers want him to succeed, to achieve his desires. This aggressive, restless desire for power has been there since viewers met Tony. But it is not entirely obvious that something initially believed to be a desirable trait could destroy the protagonist from the inside out. Elvira’s departure strips Tony of his needs and leads him to act on his fears, that’s all he has left. This furthers the film’s cautionary idea that achieving power through violent means and indulging in excessive materialism will ultimately kill an individual.

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