a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All Hail the Character Bio

So I've been wrestling with a fairly high-concept thriller for the past few months.

My script group is both helpful and unhelpful in this respect. It's helpful because deadlines are keeping me writing.

It's unhelpful because I've been fairly busy otherwise, so writing time that should have been geared toward brainstorming the basics of my script were instead focused on churning out pages before they were ready to be churned out.

Which is a helpful process in and of itself. Knocking out pages, and getting great feedback on what's working and what isn't, has really helped me figure out the essence of the first 45 pages of the script here, which is all I have written so far -- though I know where the script is going, in general.

But those 45 pages still need reworking.

So the last two days, I devoted about 4 hours to not typing, at all. Instead, I just thought about my characters.

Which is usually basic no-shit stuff. Story is character.

But my past scripts tended to be stories following one main character, which means generally I'd thought a lot about that one character just in putting the script together.

This is more of an ensemble tale. A half dozen major characters, and a definite focus on character despite it being a thriller.

Oddly, my back-assward approach to writing the script, churning out pages and then really digging into my characters, really seems to be paying benefits. Because now I went into my character bios knowing a lot more about these characters, through what they have been doing in the scenes that I wrote, than if I'd tried to do it before writing page 1.

But the best thing is that, even as I sat down writing these character bios, these characters surprised me.

And spoke to me.

Things started coming out of my pen about these characters that I'd never thought about, but which serve the script well.

It's not rocket science, but it's a step too many writers neglect. Including me.

Think about your characters. Write their stories. Ponder their needs, their desires, their dramatic needs, their frustrations.

Because it's the real meat of a screenplay and (take it from someone who knows) most writers aren't thinking very deeply into their characters at all.


At 4:03 PM, Blogger Christina said...

I've been doing this lately. Good list of questions to use when doing character bios:

At 6:27 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, LOVE your process. I do the same thing -- mostly...

Write some action, THEN dive a little deeper into the character and write a bio, of sorts, on them.

Brillant as always. Can't wait to see your hard work as a feature film at the local Bonney Lake multiplex.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

E.C., I don't think you'd like it. Testicles get lopped off.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

Greetings for the great jump ahead!

April is just 6 months [and a half] away.


At 7:44 AM, Blogger Victoria Ellis said...

I've been finding your blog most helpful on my journey as a writer. I'm getting started on my second draft of my third script and I'm finding myself going through each of the characters as well and discovering new things about them.

And those things are helping me propel the story forward in ways I never even thought of.

Chances are, with this new information at hand from the characters, this may end up being a page one re-write.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Michael said...

I started doing the bios befroe starting since it allows everyone to have something to bring to the party early on. I can come up with great concepts, but I find my charcters don't seem to have that individual voice. By doing them early I can get that in earlier, and as a bonus it allows me to release my hold on the story and let them live it, changing it to fit what would happene with them. Makes things pretty interesting that way.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

What I find most incredible [and awful at the same time], is that after a [possibly] careful, detailed, tight, planning of a story, when you actually start to write down the single scenes, it's always characters who take over.

And there's absolutely no telling about the outcome of their decisions.

They could keep faithfully to your "guidelines", or they could throw away all the hard reasoning like an unfitting dress.

Sometimes, when I'm jogging along the [my] plot, [my] characters swerve suddenly, take some shortcut, some detour, and I find myself two hours later tangled with a story "evolution" I've never thought of.

It could be for the better, it could be for the worse, but they widen the "range" of the story, and even if apparently I'm riding the same old horse, at times it sprouts a unicorn horn, a purple mane, now golden ears, now it tells jokes, now it smokes, not it talks like a philosopher.

Yes, it's kind of a strange ride.



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