Friday, February 10, 2012

Character Development

This week I was sick and grades were due, so I vacillated between sneezing half my brain out and reading some pretty depressing essays.

I took a sick day yesterday and spent all day in bed watching Game of Thrones. I could probably write a pretty cool paper on feminism in that show. But anyway....

In between the sneezing and the murder plots and the essays, I took some time to start plotting out my new spec.

Even if you've got a really fantastic, high concept plot, you MUST know your characters if you want your script to be any good. I used to get a lot of notes about how the characters didn't seem like real people, or how their decisions didn't really make sense. That was because I didn't spend the necessary time developing those characters.

Now I sit with my characters - not just for ten minutes while I crap out a brief bio and shove it in a file - but for days, weeks even, while I figure out what their life has been like to get them here.

So let's say my story is about a fast food employee who foils a robbery. I want him to be a marketable age, an age that's easily casted with a star. So he's 28. Why would a 28-year-old, good-looking (because he will have to be good looking if you expect an attachment) guy work in fast food?

-Maybe he's dumb and could never get through high school, which means he'll have some extra challenges to face when he goes up against bad guys who are clearly smarter than he is.

-Maybe he's a recovered drug addict and he's trying to get his life together. Maybe he's the inside man on the robbery, and he has second thoughts at the last minute because he really likes his boss.

-Maybe he's lazy. So now it's a slacker movie. He foils the robbery by accident, and now he's a hero to the whole restaurant. He doesn't want to be a hero. He just wants to eat burgers and pick up a paycheck.

Each of these choices about this guy's past leads to a whole different type of story. If I just said "I dunno, he's just some guy who works there" I'm missing a whole host of opportunities to make nifty choices with the story. Each of these 28-year-old guys is a different person and would do different things in the same situation. I have to know which person I am dealing with if I want to know where my story goes.

So that's what I'm doing now. Character building. I'm thinking about my two leads, figuring out who they are, imagining conversations they have together that they may not end up having in the script, but that help me figure out their natural dynamic.

Take the time to create the characters before you rush into the script. It will save you time and energy in the long run, and it will make your story that much better.


  1. I think he's an undercover narcotics officer, brought in from another city...

    I've sometimes tried to think of memories that a character might have. Because when I think of my own life, it's not in strictly chronological order. It's moments. Like when I was 4, and my mother brought my newborn brother home for the 1st time.[she sat by the door, at the table with the phone on it]

    Very true post.

  2. P.S.

    Hilarious photo captions!


    Or maybe he's an actor doing research...

  3. I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion I need to do the same character building. It's so much more fun to dive into the story and start writing straight away, but scripts tend to fizzle out stillborn if you haven't done the prep work.

    WV: suftessu. What I demand in a toilet paper.

  4. Another heart-full post. It made me think on biopics as well, since so many have come out - and come out mediocre - and that I'm planning one out. This principle you share must also apply to the most famous of people, or else why care about them? Why should the audience try to connect?

    And I concur with my fellow commenter on your photo captions. In the words of Geoffrey Holder, a la BOOMERANG: Stran-je!

  5. Good post and something that should seem obvious but obviously isn't alway done.

    I've been working on a story about an ex-football star. (And by working I mean watching old football games on cable)
    This is not a particaulrily commercial story but I've been walking in this guys shoes for a couple months now and until I know how he'll react to things I don't knwo what he'll do after the inciting incident.
    So, I keep drilling into him and the more I know the more clear and interesting his choices become.
    Thanks, it's fun following along with you.


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