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Character Development

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ABEAR111 View Drop Down
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    Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 6:24am
One of my biggest problems in writing screenplays is in Character Development.  This is definately an art and one thing that I think really sets the great writer apart from everyone else.  Characteristically, the characters in my first drafts are almost like "stick people", whom I color in in later drafts.  I am certain that this is the wrong way to go about it and was curious if anyone had any tips for good character development in screenplays.
 
Thanks,
Charlie
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Word Weaver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 6:38am

Hi Charlie,

First, think about the things that tip you off to a person's character in real life. It might be clothing, facial expressions, the words they choose, how they react in certain situations. Them go back a step, and think about what made them that way. Consider their background, birth order, national ancestry, the neighborhood they grew up in. You could even create a questionnaire, and let the character answer each question to give you a sense of who you want them to be.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
- Mark Twain
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chris Messineo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 6:40am
"Actions are Character"

We are defined by what we do. I think this is one of the key differences between writing prose and screenplays. In prose you can describe what is going on in someone's head. In film, we need to see it.

With my characters, I always try to find unique details of action or language that give a character some depth. I try to give them secrets and desires. The more tones they have, the more they seem to come alive.

Chris
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Scott McKenzie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 7:17am
So many great stories and movies have a central character that takes a journey and our enjoyment is linked to how their character changes along the way.

Think of Michael Corleone's character in The Godfather.  At the beginning he is relatively unattached to the Mafia but by the end he has gone through a series of conflicts and chooses his path as the new Godfather.  In small increments he has turned from good to evil and the viewer has joined him on the journey.

I always try to think how my characters change from one scene to the next: what new things do they learn and how do their attitudes change?  If the story ends with the character in the same mindset as they had at the beginning then the whoel thing can feel a bit pointless.

Of course all this means nothing if you're writing a sit-com, where characters aren't supposed to develop and everything's supposed to go back to normal at the end.
Scott McKenzie
www.DVDactive.com

Read my blognovel Rebirth at http://rebirthnovel.blogspot.com/
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ABEAR111 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ABEAR111 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 8:03am
This is all really good stuff.  Keep it coming.
I'm trying to make the switch from novelist to screenwriter and, like you say Chris, I can no longer just "tell" you what's in someone's head.  It's my biggest stuggle in this arena.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Requiem Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 8:14am
Great advice from Scott and Chris.

It's all about actions and decisions your characters take to achieve their goals, and how they change along the way. When I start outlining a story I look at my protagonist and give him a starting value and an ending value. The obstacles along the way, and how the character overcomes them, is what brings about this change in character.

An obvious example is Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars. The naive farm boy at the beginning of the story could never have taken on the empire. But every obstacle Luke encounters on his journey prepares him for the final conflict. The decisions he makes define his character. He could have ignored the distress call from Leia but he didn't. That decision alone tells you a lot about his character. Look at the other decisions he makes along the way and how they define his character.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote spiffyvictory Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 9:29am

The actions of a character define them.

Or, as Chris put it, "Actions are Character".
 
As stated, that's the key difference between screenplays and prose.  In screenplays, we only know the characters through their actions.
 
From situations arise actions and from actions arise situations.  And by seeing a character's actions in dealing with arising situations, their very nature is revealed.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rusty Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 9:57am
A good way to hone your craft of character development for screenplay writing is a basic exercise.
 
Just document all that you have done in a day. the people you have met. A fight you saw on the street, what was the pretty blonde looking at in the park. Carry a little notebook with you and write down stuff you hear on the bus, street, subway, at work.
 
At the end of the day write down a scene with you as the protagonist and create dialogues for these other characters.
 
So, you have INT. SUBWAY - DAY
 
ABEAR waits for the train and notices BLONDIE, 23, staring at ...
 
The more you do this and at the end of the week you will realise that there is something different every time even though you take the same train or bus.
 
Now edit all those days into one scene on a train or bus and select the best characteristics from each scene and voila, you have character development.
 
Read about Aristotles definition of a hero, as he stresses a lot on what Chris mentioned "Characters are what they do"
 
The other major thing is the "Empathy" factor, make the audience wish they were or in some cases were not in the character's shoes.
 
Not even the best writers have given up developing their characters, it will be a never ending process but very satisfying when you get some response for them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tjland Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 1:23pm
Originally posted by Rusty Rusty wrote:

The other major thing is the "Empathy" factor, make the audience wish they were or in some cases were not in the character's shoes.
 
I think this is the crucial element to a good screenplay. A character may be critical to the plot, may be outgoing, animated, intelligent or colorful, but if you don't care about them or about what happens to them, you've lost your audience. Don't just make them interesting, make them compelling.
 
Why do you care about Agent Starling in the Silence of the Lambs? Because she's tough, yet vulnerable. She's intelligent but makes mistakes. She's resourceful but also flawed like all of us. She's accomplishing something that we'd like to accomplish. She's an honest portrayal of a real person.
 
If you don't care about a character when you're writing their actions and dialogues, your audience probably won't either.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MeaningLess Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2006 at 8:32pm
A good book to read, which I read about three times, is Syd Field's Screenplay.  When you finish that you should have the tools to write a good script (practice, practice, of course).  I'm more into writing novels (though I've never completed one of those, either), but this book really helped me make the transition and gave me the confidence to start dabbling.  Really good book.

Edited by MeaningLess - 03 Aug 2006 at 8:34pm
"Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless, says the teacher..."
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