Film and Theatre meet Writing: Part One, Characters
June 4, 2012
Today we’re mainly looking at characters and characterization. I had hoped to also cover setting – or scenic design to use a film term – but I haven’t had a chance as yet to delve into that aspect of the relation between film/theatre and writing.
What, then, can film and theatre say about characterization that can enhance the writing process?
Blake Edwards, the great film director, often said, “Your characters make your story.” (I’m sure others have expressed the same idea, but it’s Mr. Edwards’ work that I’m most familiar with.)
There are many ways of building a character. At one point or another, all writers learn that characters cannot be one-dimensional and still be believable. They need backstory. They need flaws and foibles, likes and dislikes, all the things that go into making a person – and all the things that go into making a character in a film or a play believable to the audience.
Most writing teachers suggest some sort of questionnaire for a writer to use in order to get beyond the surface of a character, to get under the character’s skin, so to speak. It is essential that an actor get to know his or her character so well that it seems second nature to react the way that character would. The same is true for a writer.
So, as we approach our writing project, we need to delve into our characters in much the same way as an actor would. Dee Cannon can help us in this regard. In a 2009 article in the Guardian, she goes into great detail about “10 questions that must be addressed in order to create a fully-realised three-dimensional person” which is the actor’s and the writer’s task.
In my own writing, I have also found the key questions asked in Screenwriting for Dummies by Laura Schellhardt to be particularly helpful, and highly recommend that resource whether you are writing a screenplay or a kids’ book. In particular, I noted that the author stresses the importance of going through these character development exercises and questions for all your characters, the minor ones as well as the major ones. She points out that “just as villains don’t necessarily know they’re villains, your secondary characters don’t know they’re secondary. In fact, they probably assume that they’re the main characters, so it will help you to craft them that way.” (p. 138) I find that a very intriguing thought.
Of course, characters don’t operate in a vacuum, nor in an empty field. They need a setting, and so the writer next becomes a scenic designer. To get your mind working a bit on scenic design as it applies to writing, please see my posts entitled Setting the Stage and Tony Walton: Wednesday Worthy. They may give you some ideas to take into your current or future writing projects.
I hope you found something of use to you in your writing journey in this brief look at character development, and I hope you’ll come back on Monday, the 18th of June, as I look at other ways film methods can enhance one’s writing.
Also, be sure to check in here on Wednesday, June 6th, for my interview with Emma Walton Hamilton, author, editor, educator, arts and literacy advocate. I assure you that you won’t want to miss it!