Friday, February 11, 2011

Flawed but Loved: Writing Character

Here’s a tip from screenwriting teacher Julie Gray in Monday night’s detailed workshop, Writing Organic Characters Straight From the Heart: invest in flawed but active main characters.  
In order to make that tangible investment in our characters, Julie’s writing exercises had us asking our main characters a series of questions about who they are, what they want, and why they so desperately want it.  The idea is to answer these quickly and instinctively and then to explore how those desires change over the course of your story.  Fully investigating your characters desires can pull you out of writers block or trigger a detail that transforms your understanding of your character. 
Julie encourages writers to also ask similar questions of yourself (I am….?  I want…?) Asking these questions can give you insight about yourself, and what you might want to change about yourself.  This is no small thing since we often have the sticky, albeit unavoidable, habit of imbuing a lot of ourselves in our main characters.  
Story is no story without a flawed main character.  Don’t make the mistake of falling too much in love with your character on page one…Julie wants us to fall in love with who our character becomes at the end of the story instead.  Don’t make them so likable from beginning to end that they never get a chance to grow and change.  Unfortunately, we may be unwilling to admit our characters’ flaws because we don’t want to get into our own.
If there was one thing Julie wanted writers to take away from the night it was to make your character's flaws active, active active.  Can others identify the flaw in the way your character acts?    Where “arrogance” is an active flaw (a braggart who puffs up his chest and walks around like he owns the place), “fear of failure” is not.  You can use fear of failure as the building block, but try “perfectionism” on for size as that character’s active flaw and see how the story grows.
It might not be a very pretty sight, but ripping off the Band-Aids that cover our characters’ scars is an act of tough love that we need to do to keep them honest, and to not so gently prod them into becoming characters to be truly smitten with in the end.
For more writing tips from Julie Gray, visit her screenwriting blog, Just Effing Entertain Me

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