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WRITER'S LIFE
Screen & Stage
January, 2008


Larry Brody TV Writer.com

Behaviour – The Map Of Character Essence Part II
Action is the true expression of attitude
By  Larry Brody

Pull the reader into your story and get them to tune into your characters.
F
. Scott Fitzgerald, not exactly known as an action writer, said it best: "In movies, characters are what they do, not what they say." This is the most important thing you can recall when writing any script for film or TV, and believe me I know how hard it is to remember.

In a novel, we get into our protagonist's mind. We know his or her thoughts. In a stageplay, the flow of words is designed to both propel the story forward and illuminate the psyches of the speakers. But in a teleplay or screenplay, the only way we can know what a character is thinking is by his behaviour. We may never hear his thoughts, and the only time we hear him talking is when he's in conversation with other people, to whom he could easily be lying.

Action, then, is what conveys our characters' states of mind. An angry character throws a chair, breaks a mirror. A loving character holds a dear one tenderly. A character who can't face life, literally turns away. Whether the action is large or small, it has to come from within, driven by the needs of the individual, and therefore it illuminates them at the same time.

The next time you sit down to sketch out a script, think of yourself as a supreme existentialist. Sartre wrote, "Existence precedes essence." Your job writing for visual media is to make Sartre's words come true. Create events that infuse characters with existence so that the audience will understand their essence, making the entire piece come alive.

Even when I don't have a show in production, I receive tons of spec scripts. Many of these submissions share one common flaw. The writers tend to err on the side of underwriting the material, failing to draw the reader into the characters' state of mind.

Pull the reader into your story – be explicit about the feelings of the characters, especially the leads. If you don't, your script isn't going to work. It won't appeal to producers or actors or directors. And if by some chance it does get made, it will fail with the audience.

Writers write. Even in a spec screenplay, use the tools that make you a writer. Describe your main characters briefly. Let us know a little about what they look like or how they dress. These details communicate a lot about them as people. Similarly, a brief sentence here and there, at moments that are extremely emotional, expressing the characters' exact feelings about what's going down, can be the difference between a script that gets thrown into the return pile and one compelling enough to get a deal.

When you're scripting, remember this old adage: "If it's not on the page, it's not on the stage." I originally heard that from the late Stirling Silliphant – creator of and writing supervisor on the classic series Route 66 and Oscar winner for In The Heat Of The Night. How much of Virgil Tibbs was Sidney Poitier? How much was Stirling? The real sign of both their greatness is that the character's presentation and actions meshed so perfectly that we'll never know.

Read the previous part to this article.IN Icon


Larry Brody – As a producer, Larry Brody has been responsible for thousands of hours of network television programming. As a writer, he has authored over five hundred different television episodes and movies of the week, serving as head writer, creator and/or producer of The Huntress, Star Trek: Voyager, Diagnosis Murder, Walker Texas Ranger and Star Trek: The Next Generation, to name only a few. He is also the author of the best-selling how-to book Television Writing from the Inside Out. As Creative Director of the non-profit Cloud Creek Institute For The Arts, he supervises http://www.tvwriter.com, internationally known as the top television writing site on the Web, and http://www.writesafe.com, the Web's fastest-growing registry of intellectual property.

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© Freelance Writing Organization - International 1999-2049

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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Bald Ego
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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

Poetry
The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

Pegasus
It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
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.

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

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at FatherGoose.com


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