Writing a Short Film: Characters

First of all, i hope you all recovered from the New Year’s hangover and i hope you had a great party and most important, that your 2013 turns out outstanding. But it is time to get back to work and i’ll be discussing my method to create characters.

Often people underestimate character development since they’re working on a shorter format. But your characters are always greater than your story and you must build this person. Your length doesn’t matter, it won’t stop being a person. This overall means that the process to create characters for short films is identical to creating for feature films. But why should we develop characters?

Platypus

This is the story of a God.

A while ago we were discussing this subject on #scriptchat, someone agreed with me, “i know, you must be the God of your writing”, but i replied as it wasn’t like that. Being almighty towards your script means that anything is appropriate, and if anything is possible, then everything makes sense. Which is not the case. If you place yourself as the God of your story, it’ll end up as a platypus.

To avoid this we must place some boundaries and developing our characters is one of those things. I won’t come up with an example of a character that shouldn’t so something because it has certain personality, you’ll think of something as you read. But mostly because we develop our characters to stay out of these situations.

You should know your characters as a best friend. You may be able to predict their reactions, but they may still surprise you. You must know what ticks them and their flaws.

We should begin drawing our characters now. There are applications specialized on character development, as Persona, and a mere google search should lead you to several character sheets and questionnaires. I sincerely can’t work like that. The reason is that i few trapped in these forms and questions and i like to work freehand on my characters. I create by brainstorming.

Open up a text document and just type. Sometimes you’ll already have plot twists and a fate for this character, you must keep that in mind when you’re writing its biography as the decisions that lead to these twists must make sense. If you don’t have much more than an inciting incident, then developing a character properly will help you to come up with events to improve your stories. It’s like throwing mice in a maze.

I do most of my writing on iA Writer, but for character development i work on Scrivener directly. That’s because the smaller font makes me visualize the entire block of text. As i write on a single paragraph, it’s important to be aware of everything. I usually begin with tags which i’ll attain for the entire biography. “Isabella: Intellectual, stubborn, objective, overconfident“. These are my guidelines. I use the rest of the page to describe the past, reactions and justifications. Creating a background is to solidify the reason why pursuing your story’s goal actually matters for this character. “If John achieves his goal, he’ll be promoted” is a motive, “In his childhood, John was constantly bullied in school for achieving nothing” is what justifies the motive and humanizes our character, improving his empathy. My main character, Isabella, as i described, became an intellectual because she couldn’t settle down with her mother, drowned herself in books to run away into a decent university.

Scrivener

But my method is all about brainstorming, so it includes snippets of text that wouldn’t interfere in the story. Isabela remains quiet in the elevator, says there, but i won’t have any scene with Isabela meeting a stranger and having a chat in the elevator, but what motivates me into these sentences is that they bring clean images of the character, because a person that refuses to chat in elevators is reasonable and it takes our impressions someplace else. It’s what lies beneath. In my previous script (which will soon be posted in the blog), i wrote this on a character: has several books in the shelf, never read any of them. This is a person who cares for the visual impression he presents to others. These little things, images, that pop up in your head while you think about your character say more about they than the typical relevant information you would conventionally include in their description. And this is the main reason why i avoid all those techniques, i miss most of this when i get into forms and questions. I lose the imagery.

Developing your characters is not solely about raising limits, but also narrowing your path, drawing some guidelines when it comes to dialogue and reactions. In what situation would your character lie? How would he do it? Is he a natural liar? How does he react when someone finds out his flaw? These are not arbitrary questions, they don’t need an input in your development, however if you live with your character, sooner or later you’ll be able to answer these and many others. My brainstorming experience focuses on that: living among your characters, and that’s why i recommend it to you.

Quick notes on this subject:

1. Create a great character: Your job is not to ‘create a great character for a film’, forget about the media. Just create a great character.

2. Would this character pursue the goal of your story? Not an arbitrary question, but a reminder that your story must fit the character.

3. If you feel it is wrong, then it is wrong. This is a great advice when it comes to editing your story, but you could also put it in practice right now. If you write your character doing something that doesn’t seem right, then he probably wouldn’t do it. Stop thinking and let your character talk to you.

4. Use your imagery well. Your job is to create and induce images. How deep this image goes depends only on the dedication you apply to its layers. Start right now. Think in images.

5. Have a conversation. When you manage to have a fictional conversation with your character, then you’re ready.

6. Respect your boundaries. Don’t distort your characters because it would turn your story easier. Put some thought, otherwise we won’t bite it.

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