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06/23/2001 - More Characterization

Teleplay Tips & Tricks

More Characterization

Once you've given us characters with whom we can sympathize, your next job is to give them some "tsuris," which is Yiddish for "Trouble with a Capital T." Everything in writing is dependent upon the build-up, so start out small-that is with only one unmanageable stress, which is the problem to be solved in the episode or film-and then build up.

That's right, your job is to turn the screws, to pile more and more crap on your characters' heads-especially the heads of the hero or heroes. It's not bad enough that the daughter of the lead has been kidnapped, his wife has also left him. And then his dog gets run over, and his boss lets him know that if he doesn't make it to the next PTA meeting and bring the cookies he's fired.

With the right set of troubles, the audience feels for even the most unlikeable lead. Remember THE PLAYER? Tim Robbins' character kills a man who doesn't deserve it-just because he's a writer, you might say-but Tim's life gets so tough afterward that even writers rooted for him all the way.


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