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06/30/2001 - Still More Characterization

Teleplay Tips & Tricks

Still More Characterization

F. Scott Fitzgerald, not exactly known as an action writer, said it best: "In movies, characters are what they do, not what they say." This is the most important thing you can keep in mind when writing any script for film or TV, and believe me I know how hard it is to remember. After all, we're writers, aren't we? We live and die by the word.

In a novel, we get into our protagonist's mind. We know his or her thoughts. In a stageplay, the flow of words is designed to both propel the story forward and illuminate the psyches of the speakers. But in a teleplay or screenplay the only way we can know what a character is thinking is by how he behaves. We never hear his thoughts, and the only time we hear him talking is when he's in conversation with other people, to whom he could easily be lying.

Action, then, is what gives us our characters' states of mind. An angry character throws a chair, breaks a mirror. A loving character holds a dear one tenderly. A character who can't face life literally turns away. Whether the action is large or small, it has to come from within, driven by the needs of the character and therefore illuminating them at the same time.


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