18 July, 2007

Red Planet Prize Project - 5


Mr Jordan said that more than one entry was allowed at the Screenwriters' Festival in response to a question. And that has now been confirmed by the updated rules on the website.

As it says "quantity is no guarantee of success". The scattergun approach is unlikely to work unless you have a portfolio of polished scripts ready to go. Far better to aim carefully with a sniper's rifle and one or two bullets.

There's plenty of time before the deadline to write something new and polish one or two old specs. There's no extra prize for sending something in early so I'll be writing and revising as close to the deadline as I can to improve my chances.

I complained about wanting three months and not two months to write and the kind Mr Stack pointed out that after the deadline you have another month to finish your scripts before it will be requested. If you pre-write that's a piece of piss as dialogue is easy once everything's worked out beforehand.

If you haven't got polished specs on the go and you're writing something new using the Project, don't be disheartened, your script could be the one that beats more experienced writers. It happens all the time.


Firstly, just a reminder that what follows is just my personal opinion and not rules that have to be followed exactly. Take as much or as little from it as you want.

Here's another inspirational quote from Paris Hilton:

“The only rule is don't be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.”

Someone should publish a little book of her quotes so people could carry it with them as portable inspiration and enlightenment. I find dressing cute easy but, obviously, I need to work on the boring aspect.

You should by now have a dramatic premise in mind and a rough idea of your main characters. Now it's time to spend some time on creating those characters. As you develop your characters, you will think of ways your story can develop naturally. Never start with plot. To quote a TV exec, "A writers primary relationship is with the audience, and the audience's primary relationship is with the characters."

OK, I've got my main character (or protagonist) the copper. I also have someone opposing what he wants, his father (or antagonist). I also have another possible antagonist, the child-killer.

I'm choosing to focus on the copper's inner goal (or emotional need) and make the father the real antagonist in the main plot. The outer goal (physical, external) of catching the child-killer is the sub-plot. This is because this script is meant to be a sample script and I need to emotionally involve the reader. The copper also needs to have a 'superobjective' - something he hopes to achieve by reaching his inner or outer goal. For instance my copper's inner goal is to stand up to his father and leave the police. Not so he can doss at home watching daytime TV but by doing a job where he can help children in a practical way.

What other characters do I need? The copper should have a girlfriend who he can talk to about his feelings regarding his dad and the child-killer. But female actors despair at girlfriend roles because all they are usually is sounding boards so she needs to be developed fully.

The girlfriend needs to be in opposition to the copper in some way. Now she could simply be saying 'confront your dad, you're a coward' which would sort of work but I need to find a goal she has that the copper is against. Maybe it's whether or not to have children, maybe it's marriage, maybe it's moving to a nicer area, etc. Oh, blimey! Of course the issue has to be children. Either she wants them or he does as it relates to my theme of fatherhood. Maybe they both want children but they can't. Sweet. Not sweet for them, clearly, but I don't want them sweet and happy but emotionally in conflict and turmoil.

Who else do I need? Our copper cares a lot about the dead kid so there has to be a copper who doesn't give a toss, his partner. So now there's great conflict as my copper has a go at cynical copper. But why is he cynical? Maybe he's a veteran and used to it and it's his way of coping. He'll need to be fleshed out a bit more.

Who else? The copper's mom, the dead child's mother. Oh, and the child-killer. Whatever you feel about people who kill children - although it's generally considered to be not a very nice thing to do - we have to understand why he did it and even sympathise with him. Everyone is the hero in their own story. No-one is completely bad.

And no-one is completely good so you can't make your hero character too passive or too nice. They have to actively change their destiny and they have to be flawed in some way. Ideally it's that flaw which is the obstacle to them achieving their goal. For instance. my copper will risk his life to save someone but is too much of a coward to stand up to his father. To achieve his goal - which is to quit the police and be a social worker or teacher - he needs to be courageous to his father. We can then see a clear character change.

Sometimes the character is too much like the author as when we start out our stories tend to be autobiographical. There is a time to explore that but maybe not with this project. The characters can't be a version of you as you need to put them through hell and there would be an obvious reluctance to do that. If you find the character is too much like you or someone you know then its perhaps best to change them so they aren't.

Hopefully my Project will help develop techniques to use when you run out of personal stories and those of people you know. Besides which, although they have to be believable, characters are not real people. They are conduits for our ideas; they are there to serve the story.

As writers we have to do what actors do - put yourself into a character's shoes and ask:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I coming from?
  • What do I want?
  • What's in the way of what I want?
  • What do I do to get what I want?
Unfortunately you can't just wait for the actor to provide the answers as they get the answers from the script, from the writer, from us. If we're expecting David Tennant to do our character creation work for us then the script won't even get as far as David Tennant's agent.

Now simply asking those above questions might do but I like using questionnaires. Characters have got to be different from and distinguishable from each other (not so much in looks but more crucially in personality and attitude) and asking the same questions helps you to avoid the same answers. Also the answers to questions like favourite food or hobby can generate lots of ideas for future stories - which is useful when creating an original comedy or drama series.

You are not going to use all the answers in the questionnaire and some of those answers may change anyway in the development of the story but it's the easiest way of ensuring you get believable characters and avoid stereotypes.

Now it's your turn. Work out the characters you'll need to tell your story and complete profiles for them using the 'Ideas Factory Questionnaire' or the 'Character Profile Worksheet'. Not all the questions will be relevant but answer enough so you're clear about who the character is and what they want. Try and keep it to less than six main characters, any more and it might get too confusing.

Spend enough time doing this so you know the characters well. By the time you've finished you should be clear on all the character motivations and also know the basic beginning, middle and end of your story.

Watch drama to see how characters are set up and how story and plotting is done. Even drama you would normally avoid like soaps or arthouse indie. At least watch the first ten minutes.

Some of you probably aren't happy with your concept as it doesn't seem interesting enough or you don't really want to write about the theme you first chose and want to switch to another one. That's no problem. At the foundation or pre-writing stage you are pretty much free to change stories, change viewpoints, change characters, change themes until you have something you're happy with and that is likely to work with an audience as well. Liking your story and having a passion for the story is the most important thing.

The alternative route, which most aspiring screenwriters take is rushing through the plotting, by-passing proper character creation, and rushing through the writing only to end up stuck a third of the way through. Then they try to change stories, viewpoints, characters and themes but it's too much work at that stage and they abandon it. Fair enough, that method will get you your first ten pages really quickly but they will suck and producing the rest of the script will be difficult.


Creating Character and Characterization in Screenplays by Elizabeth English

Creating Characters That Jump Off the Page

My Mother the Antagonist by Bill Martell

Do You Feel What I Feel- MaryAn Batchellor

Character Naming Resources

Character Development Center

How to create convincing characters - 7 steps to developing real people who will bring your fiction to life

Character Building Workshop


And courtesy of the Required Reading list compiled by Lucy.

Creating Characters by Sam North

How Much is Enough? Part 1 by Lucy

How Much is Enough? Part 2 by Lucy

Surprising Characterisation by Danny Stack



Lucy said...

WTF??? You write an advice column and DON'T include any links to any of MY wonderful troubleshooting articles? Prepare to die, Kelly.

Robin Kelly said...

It's at the end of the article, Lucy! Right there in front of you! You need to get your eyes tested before making accusations.

Lucy said...

A likely story Kelly. Just remember my death ray is trained on the whole of Birmingham via satellite from Devon. Forget to include my links again and I won't be so understanding.

Danny Stack said...

Nice one, Robin, you're way ahead of me!

Robin Kelly said...

Makes a change, Danny :-)