Today I received a concerned phone call from my acting friend Catrina. She had just read through the script for the independent film I wrote and pointed out two big problems:
1.) Her name is Catrina, not Katrina
2.) The women in the film were boring, cliche, and cardboard!
I apologized immediately for spelling her name wrong in the script. As far as her observation, I knew she was dead right – I’m more than aware of my limitations as a writer. Creating a strong female lead that is true to life is definitely something I have to work on.
She made some great suggestions, many of which I intend to implement. The most important observation she made was that the character needed some work. So, I consulted one of the best books on writing there is – The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri – then consulted his 1st chapter on character. Here he lays out the guidelines for creating a tridimensional character, which I intend to share with you. The 3 parts he outlines are:
1.) Physiological – What does the character look like? Appearance affects our perception of the world. Whether we are big and strong, are small and weak, it will have a serious impact on how we interact with the world around us.
2.) Sociological – Social standing; class status. A rich person will have a much different reaction to a $1000 suit than a person struggling to purchase a burrito after work.
3.) Psychological – This is the product of physiological and sociological influences. How we look, and how we rank in society, have a profound effect on everyday thought process.
Egri goes on to list question specific to each of the three criteria. By answering each of these questions for Mary’s character, I was able to bring the character to life. She transformed from a nagging girlfriend who wanted nothing more than to get married (literally nothing – she might as well sleep whenever her protagonist boyfriend leaves her side) to someone I’m generally interested in getting to know.
Mary is now a mildly schizophrenic, passionate artist who cares deeply for the man she loves yet has serious distrusts for most others. She comes from wealthy parents whose marriage was a sham, as they were more comfortable hosting swinger parties than kneeling in the front pews at their local Catholic church every Sunday morning.
To take my analysis of Mary to another level, I decided to take a personality test and answer each question as if I were her. Turns out Mary is an INFJ, a type that makes up less than 1% of the population and lives according to their “inborn sense of idealism and morality” (16personalities).
With my newfound understanding, I’m going to return to the script tomorrow and asks myself how this living, breathing character would react to the many different scenarios she finds herself in. I’ve also enjoyed this process so much, I would like to do the same for the four other significant characters in my Indy film. Only problem is, shooting starts Tuesday!
- Thomas M. Watt
I like the personality test idea for characters. I have a 40-50 question worksheet I use for my characters that I recently started using.
Thank you! I like your idea as well. I believe the more we know about our characters, the more accurately and distinctly we can portray them.
Fascinating, Thomas. Gotta look into the personality test…
It’s an awesome tool, and one that I highly recommend. While backstories give us a good idea of what motivates a character’s actions, personality types are unchanging. Understanding the sources a character relies on for their daily functioning really helps us authors grasp a deeper understanding of how they will react to different situations.
Interesting post on how to fix a script or lack thereof. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂
Will do, John! Thanks so much, I’m sorry for my lengthy absence. I can’t wait to here your opinion of the film I put together! You are, afterall, the ultimate audience!