Day 7 08/02/2016 # Know Thy Characters

– 3 min –

So, I’m not writing every day and that’s ok, I have decided. Because on the days I don’t write, I do do other things that are related to filmmaking which will add to the art of screenwriting. So, just to get that out of the way.

And yes, we already talked about the importance of the character itself, didn’t we? But since this is at the core of any story – well, most of the time, I will talk about the exceptions that work later – it’s worth repeating and here is the reason why. To make your life easier. And writing the story easier. Almost without any effort really. I mean it. And here’s why that is.

If you know who your characters are, completely, from the content of their wardrobe (and when you see episode 3 of season 1 of Mr. Robot, you understand why I am saying this) to their deepest wishes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, you will also know what they will do in any given situation you throw at them. And what they want to say. This last thing is what Robert McKee mentions in either his book Story or Writers’ Quarterly, volume 1, On Dialogue, he’s actually quoting a filmmaker who says that you should write the story and if you must, add dialogue. It’s probably Alfred Hitchcock, since he’s known for loving pure cinema, letting the pictures speak for themselves. I will have to look it up again.

Your characters will tell you what they want to say. It will be evident. So, no need to come up with any dialogue at the beginning. It will almost write itself in the end.

I am, probably like lots of people, tempted to think of dialogue a lot at first. You’re riding your bike, driving in your car and you’re thinking of what your character might say. Before you’ve even established who they are, really.

But do you really need to know everything about your protagonist, other characters? Is the character’s background always necessary? I think so. And not necessarily for the story you’re telling, as the biography might not come up so much at all, in many cases, but for the actors (when I write actor, I mean this both male and female) who will play your character. Imagine. You’ve written a story. Any story. And the director is telling the actor to play the character, the actions, the feelings etc. And the actor will want to know how to play the role, doesn’t he/she? Who is this character? The more information you know about the character, his/her life, the better you will be able to put yourself in their shoes and identify with the character and how he is responding and bring that across better. That is what I believe. No character is a flat character. Well, they shouldn’t be. Unfortunately you do see many on screen.

You ever heard something about someone that you know really well, and that they might have said or done something and you’re like ‘that doesn’t at all sound like him or her’. Of course no one knows every friend or family member completely – cue for dozens and dozens of Hollywood movies – but that’s how that should be and you can play off of so well. Because, like with rules, the better you know them, the better you can go ‘break them’, go off track and know why and where you can go off track, so it will look totally out of character and it being for a purpose and involve the audience with that, they too will be drawn in by that. Because they too have come to know that character really well, because you have revealed that to them earlier. And the better you’ve done that, the more surprised the audience will be and will notice that you’re taking the character off track. Imagine you want to show the audience that all of a sudden the character is going off track, doing something he/she wouldn’t normally do. Don’t you have to show the audience the original character trait first? And preferably not spell it out, so it’s super obvious you’re doing that.

I’m convinced. And am now focused on that more and more when watching a movie. Good exercise.


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