People asked me how I write a script, so here we go with Part 4. This is a follow up to Part 1, which focused on story concept, Part 2, where we looked at brainstorming, and Part 3, which talked about research.
PART 4: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
I’m compartmentalizing my creative process, which is misleading. Because as I’m brainstorming and doing research, characters emerge, plot ideas pop up, themes evolve. So do not think of it like, first I do brainstorming for 2 weeks, then I move into research for another 2 weeks, then into characters. No, it’s best, I think, to follow one’s instincts. And at some point, you will have accumulated enough story ‘stuff’ that key characters will spring to life. Then it’s time to dig into them.
I create individual files (in my computer) for the primary characters. I spend time with each of them, ‘sitting’ with them, my fingers on the keyboard as I try to with engage them. Sometimes I’ll take a walk with them, imagining us in conversation. As with brainstorming, I try not to pre-judge; here my task is to let the stuff flow. This allows the characters to be free to evolve into what they are to become.
Think on that word: evolve. It had never occurred to me until recently, but it’s implied in the word “development,” isn’t it? So as we develop our characters, in the best of all creative worlds, we’re letting them evolve into being.
The single biggest key I find about working with characters is to be curious about them. Ask them questions. Interview them. Talk with them. That works for some characters; others I find myself writing a narrative of their past. I don’t know why that is – again, I just follow my instinct.
Whenever an attitude, action, or line of dialogue pops up associated with one of my characters, I’ll follow my curiosity: Why do you think that? Why do you believe that? Why do you act that way?
At some point, I apply seven questions to my characters to try to see what narrative functions each might play in the story:
* Who is my Protagonist?
* What do they want(External Goal)?
* What do they need (Internal Goal)?
* Who is keeping them from it? (Nemesis)
* Who is connected to the Protagonist’s emotional growth? (Attractor)
* Who is connected to the P’s intellectual growth (Mentor)?
* Who tests the P by switching allegiances from ally to enemy (Trickster)?
I believe that these five narrative functions represented by this group of primary archetypes — Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster — occur in most every movie. Once I can identify the core function for each character, I can use that as a lens through which to interpret each of them, thereby tying them directly and intimately to the Protagonist’s journey.
Tomorrow in Part 5, we explore the plotting.
[Originally posted June 8, 2008]