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Screen & Stage
January, 2008

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Cooking Up Screenplays From Scratch
Step III: Figuring out the characters
By  Ken Robinson

Characters come in all shapes and sizes and picking the right nuances is the key.
kay, okay, I get it. Someoneís character takes time to figure out, as I learned the hard way with a particular pony.
I had thought we knew each other pretty well by now. But was I wrong. At the ripe old age of four months, his mom isnít at the top of his list any longer.

And I no longer hold the trump card, as he was not trained to follow a lead rope. So he gets his way which is very annoying. We learned the hard way about his character; heís smart and ornery.
But thatís what youíve got to do with the characters in your script. Youíve got to suffer sacrifice to wrangle how your character is going to behave.

There are different ways to go about coming up with your character's personality. Some people put together a complete back-story on each character, with as much detail as possible. Some use people in their lives to pattern their character after. They have a complete back-story in their head already.

The way I do it is to know the story I want to tell, and a little about the characters. In MediEvil Mansion I originally had planned on using the characters from the dream just as they were.

But I eventually settled on the main two protagonists; a father and his daughter who have traveled to Ireland to try and patch up their relationship after he and her mother have divorced. 

The antagonist was settled early as Morrigan; the three-in-one Irish goddess. The secondary characters all came from Irish mythology and were decided early on as well.
The main problem with the dream characters was that they were not really interesting enough and may have hit a little too close to home.

Initially, after the change of characters I tried to make the father an absent-minded professor type who didnít believe that they had really been taken 1,000 years into the past and was treating it like it was one of those role playing weekend games.

The daughter was a typical teenager who didnít want to be there and her father seemed to be going out of his way to make her bored.

But after a few rewrites and comments from a reader, it became obvious that the absentminded part of his character didnít work with the story, as it needed more action and less reaction from him.
When I start writing, I know the basics about a character -- if are they self-reliant, selfish, socially adept or not, etc. The characters grow and become three-dimensional with nuanced behavior as I write about them and get to know them better. I see how they handle the situations they have to deal with.

When you write like this you will have to go back and rewrite earlier parts of the script to better fit the characters final personality. But youíre going to be rewriting anyway. Thatís a given.
For low-budget projects you better have interesting characters because thatís all you do have. There are no special effects and even if your story is good, flat, i.e. boring, characters will turn off the audience before they figure out itís an interesting story.

The entertainment business is about entertaining the audience. Give them what they want -- interesting people to get involved with. Not those people they deal with day in and day out.
A movie can have all the special effects in the world, but if the characters fizzle, the movie wonít sizzle.

Click here for the previous part to this series.IN Icon 

Ken Robinson grew up and lives in Oklahoma. After five years in Ireland, he's been writing screenplays for two and a half years. Four of his scripts have been optioned by Woofenil Works, two low-budget projects now in preproduction, as well as West Law. His email address is:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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Writerís Block
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Poetry Is Not
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It is only a lonely thought
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Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
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Fine Vintage
Donít plant your poem on the page
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Getting It Write
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To getting paid for it
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It is not the magic of his wings
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That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poemís through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

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