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How To Start Scriptwriting, Part 2: The Characters

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Posted 23rd May 2009 at 05:10 PM by Peter Neal
Updated 23rd May 2009 at 05:28 PM by Peter Neal

The following notions do probably not apply to your script in case you're doing some "auteur"-style project, as the "auteur" is first and foremost only interested in realising "his vision" for himself and those in the audience who "get it".
The "auteur" can have his characters doing the most irrational things without any apparent reason, yet he SHOULD have a reason or "motivation"- even though it's only working for himself and might only be accessible to the "dedicated few".

So, you want to write a script for a project, which is supposed to reach a wider audience, then I recommend you take some time to muse over your characters before starting the actual writing process.

Again, numerous HUGE books on the issue have been written by experts; what I'll have to offer are just some personal thoughts based on my own writing routine, which has nonetheless served me well enough in getting a few projects off the ground.

There are those, who do very much believe in extensive "research" on the living enviroment and habits of the characters.

"Research" is one of these words, which already puts a few hopeful writers off- because they're dying to start WRITING!

Well, I guess research is very much an essential part of the process for a period piece or a project dedicated to commenting on Today's ills and issues- but I assume you- like myself-are more interested in putting something together for mere entertaining I wouldn't let that "research" scaring you off too easily.
There are a few things you SHOULD know about your characters, but we'll get to that a little bit later....

Others believe you can basically only write about the life of characters that you know from your own life experience.

Fair enough, but if we'd take that seriously scifi and fantasy writers would be in one hell of a dilemma and countless authors of crime- or horror fiction would sit in jail for slicing somebody up in the quest for "knowing how it feels to kill somebody"!

Joking aside, you SHOULD allow yourself the joy of learning how to "think" like your characters while writing your script.
The journey is so much more fullfilling when the dominating question in your mind is not the distanced "What would I (Yourself) do in this situation?", but "What would "I" (the character in question) do in this situation?".
This can lead you to some scary places- particularly when writing a truly "evil villain-part"-but it'll make your fiction so much more lively, because- believe me!- the audience/the reader/the listener senses the difference if you were just "writing" or "living with" your script.

Writing and acting are actually very much alike during the writing process- with the minor difference that you- as the writer- have the benefit of being able to "fill out" ALL parts: the lead, the lover, the killer, the elderly police officer, the kid....You don't even have to move an inch away from your keyboard as the stage is your mind!

A few more pointers and then I'll leave you in peace for this time:

- Remember that ALL characters should have a PURPOSE in the script!
That's in fact a very useful reminder, stopping you from that easiest of sins, OVERPOPULATING your script with only halfway realised characters!

- You might not have to spent weeks "researching" your characters, but it won't hurt musing a bit about the way they TALK.

You'd be surprised how many big Hollywood movies are already failing right in this department, with seasoned scribes putting characters to paper, who simply don't "ring right" on screen.

-Keep an open ear how older people, teens, little kids, middle aged men etc, etc talk.

-Keep an open eye on your fellow travellers in the bus or subway....MIGHT give you some clothing- or habits- inspirations too.

-You SHOULD have at least one LIKEABLE character in your script.
As silly as it may sound, the audience NEEDS at least one character they'll can sympathize with to engage with the plot.
That's why, for instance, I can fully understand QT's anger over Oliver Stone's decision to cut out the "court room scene" of "Natural Born Killers", as the removal of that only "positive character" in the movie- played by Ashley Judd as the witness- only left you in the company of psychopaths and cartoon-characters you couldn't care less about...

-Invest some time into your characters' biographies, because you're going to spent some intense hours, weeks, months with your mind.

Next time, we'll be talking about LOCATIONS...and if I keep it short, I might be even getting to the "treatment" in the foreseeable future.
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