Friday, July 17, 2009

Letting characters dictate action

Sometimes when I get stuck I just pretend I'm my character and imagine what I would do and that tends to solve my problem. For example, my biggest problem in Burn Side has been this huge chunk at the beginning where I have to build up relationships but nothing really happens but people talking.

I kept reworking it and reworking it, but for a while everything I did felt so contrived. Like, I need a fight here, so maybe some soldiers should accidentally discover her in the wrong place at the wrong time!

No, Emily. That's the shit I used to pull back when I started writing. You can't just input a fight scene all willy-nilly because you think your script is boring. The conflict MUST come from the story, not be added to it.

So then I thought and thought and I said, okay. Here's this girl who has these martial arts skills. But I've been neglecting her brother, who has his own set of issues. So far I've made him a grumbly disapproving guy and given him little to do beyond that. So I asked myself, why is the brother so angry? He's on the losing side of a battle, and now he's forced to encounter the winners on a daily basis. That would make you angry, don't you think?

My protagonist has to hide her martial arts skills in public.

The brother gets in a fight with his enemy in public, but his sister has to watch and can't help because she can't reveal what she can do. Conflict! And if I throw my male protag into the mix, a man who also cannot interfere, you have two people watching a fight they are capable of breaking up but can't.

So now instead of a scene of two people walking down the street talking so we can learn that they like each other, I have a scene where two people have to fight their own urges, and when they drag the beaten brother back to his house, we feel their chemistry as they lecture the brother on fighting.

What I'm trying to say is, one of the most useful things I do is just sit and ponder my character for a while sometimes. Why do they do things? What would I do if I were them? And then I know I'm not manufacturing conflict, I'm just letting it happen.

I admit I'm having to think way more about this script than I usually do. Thinking is hard.


  1. Wayne and Wendy9:01 AM

    Ditto on the thinking! My wife and I are a screenwriting team and some of our most painful moments are when we disagree on a character's motivation.

    However, this often produces our most satisfying scenes. We each talk out our approach, detailing why the character is acting a certain way. This will feed into a thought that the other has and BAM! we have something that really works.

    Of course, this creates more work later on in the script, as we don't often work in chronilogical sequence. Heavy outlining and storyboarding at the start of a project keep us on track, but rewrites as we progress are common.

    A bit unorthodox, but it works for us.

    Keep writing - we love hearing about the process from other writers.

  2. Anonymous2:23 AM

    You're THINKING the right way...



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