I teach screenwriting in Telecom this semester where I am an adjunct professor. It’s interesting to read Gaut’s psychological analysis of audience identification, and compare that with how I teach the “narrative designers” to generate audience identification. First, you should know we call them “access characters” because using the word “identification” just brings up all the problems Gaut articulates. Two, “access” happens mostly in the beginning. If we get it right in the beginning, the audience will “go along for the ride” (as long as we make no value choices to ‘shove them out’ later).  So, it happens up front – you’re either on the bus, or you’re not on the bus.

One student is writing a story that opened with three “guy’s guys” friends convincing the main character to break up with his current girlfriend.  He turned in the opening pages two weeks back. In the opening, the friends fun of him for putting up with her antics. They make fun of her for her antics. By the end of it, he’s thinking he needs to break up with her.

Now, this may be the correct plot, but to read it is terrible. Because it just sounds like guys busting on a girlfriend. We don’t actually see her be bad – she’s not there. Not even to defend herself. And, we don’t know if she’s actually so bad or if it’s just “guys being guys.” Furthermore, the boyfriend doesn’t defend her – so you start liking the main character less! The experience of reading it feels like “these three guys want their friend back and are making up excuses for him to leave his girl.”  To read it, you actually begin to feel *for the girl* (who is not even there) and to not respect the hero, because he doesn’t stand up for her.  So, I told him this, and asked him to start instead on a situation where we see the hero and the girl interacting.

He turned it in last Monday – and it’s perfect. She *is* so unbearable. You can’t help but feel for the little guy who gets harangued in front of his friends. And it’s funny, and he still tries to stick up for her when people point out she’s being mean. And he’s so sweet. It’s the opposite of the first reaction – you start dying for him to get out of this relationship. And now I know when I read this week’s pages, I’ll be rooting for him to get out of this situation — scratch that, I’m already rooting for him, and I haven’t yet read the next pages.

That’s what the *purpose* of identification/access is. At least, from a constructors perspective.