Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Out of character

So you've got your bones of a story. The boxes are ticked, inciting incident, good act breaks, nice reversal, exciting and fulfilling climax. Yoohooooooo. Now all you need to do is create the characters who will project the story in the best possible way. Then you've cracked it.

Well not quite. Then you have to write those characters and give them believable voices and actions and motivations.

I've seen several 'plug-in' character questionaires aids doing the rounds. You know the kind of thing. What colour of socks does he like? Does he have cereal or toast for breakfast? Does he love his mother?

Can't be bothered with all that. Here's why. In real life things happen one after another. In screenplays they happen because of each other. So unless the story is moved on by the fact that he's wearing the wrong colour of socks, develops a wheat allergy and his mother dies, then who the hell cares?

In my view, character and story are interwined. Jimmy Stewart, a cop with vertigo? Interesting character. But unless the vertigo is integral to the story, then it is a frippary.

Of course I'm not saying you shouldn't 'know' your characters. But to me that doesn't mean knowing which side of his face he shaves first. It means knowing what he'd think, say or do in the situations afforded by the story to make that story as smooth, satisfying and believable as possible.

And that's how I approach developing characters. What is it about them that makes them an ideal protagonist, antagonist, foil, buddy or love interest for the story? What quirk or personality can they have that provides a neat, organic plot point? What do they want and why, and how does the story create conflict with this?

It is symbiotic relationship. Character and story/story and character.


Schmucks with Underwoods said...


Do you create any bios at all for your character? I find it useful to write the character's story in the first person starting from back story and then all the way through the script from beginning to end. That way I understand his motivations in every scene a lot better. Long winded, laborious but IMHO effective.


English Dave said...

For TV yes I do because that is expected when pitching a series. For movies no. I'll beat out the story with a rough idea of character in mind. As I progress through the writing I'll come up with character traits that enhance the story.