“The writer must be a participant in the scene… like a film director who writes his own scripts, does his own camera work, and somehow manages to film himself in action, as the protagonist or at least the main character.”
— Hunter S. Thompson
“For a truly effective screenplay, you must know your characters backwards and forward. In screenwriting, the moment you begin to imagine character relationships – how your character deals with his parents, his siblings, his coworkers, and all that – you start to explore the world of your story, and suddenly scenes begin to emerge.
As you research your character (context, culture, occupation), creating details (attitudes, values, emotions), developing backstory (physiology, sociology, psychology), and establishing personality and behavior, you start putting the character in different situations in your mind, and you begin to imagine him or her in the most mundane and most exciting moments of his life.
The courage to deal with the trivial and banalities is something you should develop. Because often the best stories in screenwriting, are made from the most commonplace material, and if you don’t know how your character cooks dinner, does laundry, brushes his teeth, or what his little vexations are, his petty likes and dislikes, a dynamic, a full story will never happen.
Frank Daniel, the former chair of the Film Division at Columbia University and past dean of the School of Cinema-Television at USC, echos the point in five simple words: “A story starts with character.”
So if character is the key, and stories are only as good as the characters within them, you better create some damn, fine, outstanding characters.”
For more tips on writing screenplays from , click HERE.
Readers like to worry about characters in crisis. They want to tremble about what’s around the next corner (whether it’s emotional or physical). If a reader knows what’s coming, and then it does in fact come, the worry factor is blown. Your novel no longer conveys a fictive dream but a dull ride down familiar streets.
The fix is simple: Put something unexpected in every scene. Doing this one thing keeps the reader on edge.
So how do you come up with the unexpected? Try making lists. Pause and ask yourself what might happen next, and list the possibilities, centering on three primary areas: description, action and dialogue. For each one, don’t choose the first thing that comes to mind (which usually amounts to cliches). Force yourself to list at least five alternatives.
Description: Dump generic details for ones unique to the character’s perceptions. How might he see a room where someone died? What’s one surprising thing about the wallpaper? The bed? The closet?
Action: Close your eyes and watch your scene unfold. Let the characters improvise. What are some outlandish things that could result? If something looks interesting, find a way to justify it.
Dialogue: Don’t always use “on-the-nose” exchanges. How might characters say things that put other characters (and thus, readers) off balance? Consider Clarice Starling’s first conversation with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice begins:
“I think you’ve been destructive. For me it’s the same thing.”
“Evil’s just destructive? Then storms are evil, if it’s just that simple. And we have fire, and then there’s hail. Underwriters lump it all under ‘Acts of God.’”
“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily?”
You can make these lists in your planning stages, just before writing a scene, and/or when you revise. Either way, the unexpected elements that result will perceptibly elevate the quality of your story.”
For more tips on writing from , click here.
“Writing the perfect scene:
For more tips on writing from AdvancedFictionWriting, click here.
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