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Character: The Key to Your Story

I’m taking a break from the Bond blogs for a moment to talk about character. I recently finished taking a 6-week screenwriting workshop and it was an eye opening experience. I hadn’t taken any kind of screenwriting class in several years, and when the opportunity came up to take this workshop, I jumped at the opportunity. If you’re not learning, you’re forgetting, and even if you think you know everything you need to know about screenwriting (actually, especially if you think you know everything about screenwriting), then you owe it to yourself to take some kind of class or workshop because you really never know when you’ll hear something new.

That’s what happened to me in this workshop.

I spend so much time evaluating other peoples’ scripts that it’s been a long time since I’ve actually sat down and written one of my own. I recently had an idea come to me that I thought would make a good script, but I was stuck. I knew how I wanted it to start and I knew how I wanted it to end, but I had no idea what was going to happen in the middle. I had not sense of what the storyline would be and I couldn’t get beyond flushing out any more than the three main characters.

Then I started in the workshop and one of the things that the instructor said that I had never heard in any screenwriting class was to forget about structure. He said to just make sure that you have interesting characters that the audience cares about and put them in dramatic situations and the structure would take care of itself. That may sound like an over simplification, but he gave us an exercise that completely broke my mental block and allowed be to outline the entire screenplay with 30 scenes. In fact, I’ve already written the first act and the first draft of it is 35 pages, which is the perfect place to be in the first act. You always want your early drafts to be too long because then you can cut the weakest material and make your script tight and lean with only the best material remaining. I’m on pace to write a first draft that comes in at around 130 pages which will leave me plenty of room to edit it down.

It’s a lot easier to take out weak material from a draft that’s too long than it is to come up with good material for a draft that’s too short.

So what happened? One of the exercises that the instructor gave us was to come up with 6 main characters. Since I only had 3, I had to think hard about the other 3 characters that I needed and what their roles in the script would be. However, I was able to come up with those other 3 characters and they added depth to the story, they allowed me to come up with a subplot that I was missing and they allowed me to come up with other smaller characters that would support the over all story.

Thinking up the characters that would be in the story basically gave me the inspiration for my second act.

It was quite a revelation that I will blog more about once I’ve digested it and once I’ve written some more pages in the screenplay. However I can already see that taking this workshop has made me a better writer as well as a better evaluator of screenplays.

One comment

  1. I agree that a subplot is essential for depth in any story.

    You will often find that a film, or script, is NOT about the surface story at all. The power is in the other story lurking beneath the surface, grabbing your attention, waiting to surface and swallow the obvious one.

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