There are always writing challenges, some you dread and others you relish. When a character has been put into a dilemma, personally I love the challenge and I am beginning to relish the ones I dread too. It took me a while to get to that point, but I have weathered a few storms now and I take great delight in it. Those dreaded ones happen when someone point out something you hadn’t thought of. However; my favorites are always the ones my characters get themselves into. I have created one in my second episode of Third eye for Kitty Lange. She’s been kidnapped in Iraq. How does she get out of this? That’s for me to figure out and I relish the chance to do it. She’s a former mobster in the federal witness protection program. She was hired to do secretarial duty for Father Mike. She was awful at it. Father Mike didn’t want to keep her jobless as he liked her, so he pawned her off on Drake. What Drake discovered is that she had street smarts. Something he could use in case he got in trouble. That’s exactly how they met, Drake was in ambushed and she helped him out.
I know the series is in it’s early stages, but having Kitty kidnapped was necessary for her character development and backstory. Of course Drake has no idea that she is in the federal witness protection program and she would like to keep it that way. Part of her agreement with the Government is that she cannot associate with any felons and that she cannot carry a weapon or commit any crimes. However, Kitty has already broken that. Father Mike has his own demons to deal with. He does not want Drake to know anything about his past or who his real parents are. Kitty agrees to go to Iraq as Drake’s backup. She manages to get a gun and holds a Flight Attendant at gun point, only so she can get on Drake’s plane. Whether Drake wants her there or not, Kitty is going to make sure he comes back alive one way or the other. How will I get her out of this? I am not sure, but one of the luxuries of spending almost twenty years with a character is that you get to know them pretty well and you know what makes them tick and how they would get out of it. First of all make sure you have a back door. A back door is a secret way out. Now you may not know that right up front, but something will happen within the scene that triggers it and when it does bingo. Kitty is street smart, she will use everything her Uncle and her mob associates taught her to come through. So Kitty’s kidnapped by some Middle Eastern men,(They are aligned with some very nefarious men out to destroy Drake.) you need not worry about this Italian spitfire, she will get out of this some way or the other and when she does, expect it to be explosive. For my first installment of In the Works go here. https://thescriptisthething.wordpress.com/in-the-works-2/
When you help someone out while they are blocked, you feel pretty good about it. When it’s your father and he’s had three books self published, it’s feels even better. My Dad, a former Theater Professor, Director and Actor has always had a passion to write. He’s written three and this one here is the book he has been working on the longest. It’s called A Tale From O’Reilly’s Porch. He spent well over thirty years to write this book. Through the years he has been to various publishers without success and then Kindle and Amazon came along and he found the wide wonderful world of self publishling. Which is good, because my Dad is a talent and I’m not saying that because, he’s my Dad, I’m saying it because it is true. Oh and in case your wondering that you’re way too old to write, my Dad published all three of these books in his eighties. So you’re never too old to write a novel.
Last night, I went to bed really early and I was fighting sleep with the heat and the fact I received two phone calls from telemarketers and two others that I felt could wait. When Dad called me at 8:30, I was about to fall off, but didn’t. I heard my caller ID go off. When it’s your Dad and he’s eighty five, you answer, because it could be an emergency. So I picked the phone up. He called to thank me. My blog had actually solved his writers block issue and he told me he had been writing all day. Something I had said about once the ideas start coming, they don’t stop. Well Dad was in that mode now.
Now Dad has been struggling with writers block for some time. He’s not been able to solve his latest problem, which is turning my Grandmother’s script treatment into a book. The idea is awesome. It’s set in World War two, I won’t go any further than that, because hopefully Dad can get this done and I want you to buy it and help this man sell some books. Of the three books that you see up here that he has published, I would suggest “The Making Of Daniel a real pager turner and they all can be purchased at amazon.com or kindle. Just type in any of the titles here or Clapham Murray and you should find them. If Clapham Murray doesn’t do it try W. Clapham Murray.
Plenty of writers become frustrated when they get that critique about an idea they really believe in. It maybe something that no one is writing about, or perhaps it’s a topic that is relevant. Don’t give up because the worst thing that you can do as a writer is write for someone. Write what is real to you and write what you believe will work even if others are not so sure. Remember Hollywood and Broadway or off Broadway is filled with stories about works that sat on the scrap heap before it hit someone’s desk and they said, “Hey wait a minute, this is different. This could work.” The trick is writing for yourself first. If you have an idea and someone rips it or someone just doesn’t think it will sell, keep plugging away at it. Remember why you thought the idea was good in the first place and most of all remember why you’re writing, because you’re passionate and you have a voice with an important story to tell.
I learned the lesson in High School. One of my first creative writing teachers was a man named Bob Fisher. He was a legend among the halls of Kennett High School. My freshman year he was so respected, they dedicated the Year Book to him. Now that might not seem that odd, but the man was on sabbatical. Bob wasn’t just an excellent English teacher, but he was also a very good ski coach. He was a laid back man with style and class. He was diminutive in stature with short cropped salt and pepper hair. He wore tweed coats and sweaters. He seemed more like a college professor, which I guess he could have been. He wasn’t the type of man that you would have expected to have been the father of an Olympic skier, but he was. He was very shy and very humble, but we all loved taking a course from Bob. He had a fine wit and loved to read your stories in his creative writing class.
Now, when I took Bob’s course, I had written a few small scripts of my own, but I had no confidence and I wasn’t really sure whether I enjoyed writing or not. Bob changed all that. You see Bob, didn’t assign you a topic. His only assignments, write three stories a day and write every day in a journal. The object of the journal was to kick start your imagination. He didn’t care what you wrote about, or whether you were profane, all he cared about was the work was honest. The goal of every writer in the class was to catch Bob’s eye, so he would read your piece in class.
I wrote many stories in his class, and would always get a compliment from Bob, but I came away frustrated the stories never seemed good enough for him to read in class. I began to question my own writing. While others were writing stories about their latest weekend or what went wrong on their latest date, I couldn’t find anything that caught Bob’s attention. Then it hit me, I wasn’t writing because I liked writing, I to please him, which was not honest writing. I began to stop worrying about it. Maybe the few compliments I was getting were enough.
During Christmas vacation it happened. A story out of my own life and it was something I had to write about, because it was funny. I wrote about visiting my best friend. I saw Dave at our camp in the summers and on holidays. It was the first time, Dad entrusted me with the car. I was not only elated to have my independence, but the idea of driving, put me in an optimistic mood. The trip out was fine, but I arrived way too early. No one was at Dave’s house yet. I decided to kill some time and took a ride past our summer home to the hiker parking lot. As I was backing out, I foolishly gunned it in reverse and was stuck in a huge snowbank. The next hour was a comedy of errors, as I swore up a blue streak and tried everything to get out. I rocked the car back and forth. I found a shovel in the back and tried to dig the tires out. No luck. Finally, I found a box in the trunk of the car and some sand. I ripped up the cardboard and put it under the tires along with the sand and I finally got the car out.
When I arrived at Dave’s I told him what had happened. His family thought it was hysterical. Suddenly I had a good story to write about for Bob Fisher’s English class.
I never told my Dad, I feared I’d he would never let me drive the car again. That Sunday night I wrote the story and a week later Bob Fisher read my story. As I listened to it, I wasn’t aware that everyone was laughing, I was aware of how fresh and how it sounded like something out of a Woody Allen script. Somehow without realizing it, I had finally found my voice. It was humor out of situations. Two weeks later, I wrote something entirely different. Something I never imagined would be read in class. It was about my usual boring egg salad sandwich I made myself every Saturday. It read like a Dave Barry article. Mr. Fisher liked that too and read it.
Years later my first full length play was being produced and directed in New Hampshire. I was asked to do an interview for a local paper. I remember being asked who had inspired me to write. Without hesitation Bob Fisher came to my head and I mentioned him. That week I had a reunion with Bob Fisher. He read the article and wanted to see the play written by this kid that he had inspired. We had a good reunion and I thanked him for his wisdom and for reading my stories in class. Now Bob may have inspired me to write by my first full length play was written about something I was passionate about and I wrote it for myself.
USA used to have this great slogan when “Burn Notice” was on. Characters matter. I believe they are right. In order to write a decent television series Characters do matter. I started writing this article on my next episode of Third Eye, when this idea hit me. It may have been one of those voices inside my head. Perhaps it’s that wild character Mordecai Morphine speaking to me.
Mordecai Morphine is indeed an interesting character, who I completely stumbled upon. He brings me to an interesting topic. Where do characters come from? Yes these characters come from somewhere inside our sub conscience, but how do they get there? Is it true that writers work from a composite? I have found the answer to be yes and no. In the past I have written characters based on some people I knew, or aspects of people I knew. For instance I got an idea for a play I wrote after going to my tenth high school re-union. Every character I got an idea for came from someone I knew from high school and I based those characters on what they would be like in their late 30’s. My main character was an FBI agent named Brick Morton who returns to his high school reunion, while working on a case to bring down the mob. The guy I had based Brick on was a complete bombastic moron when I knew him. For whatever reason, I decided to take some of that arrogance and create a hero out of him. What came out was a completely different character, but one that was unique and definitely interesting. Previously I discussed a movie called Derby Double, which I had written about British Soccer, now my main character Seamus O’Brien was a composite of George Best, but his joy and love of soccer came from an old school chum I knew when I lived in England. A lad by the name of Christian Langworthy. Christian was the most talented soccer in the school I attended, but what always marveled me about Christian is how much he loved the game. He played it with passion and a smile on his face. Christian passed away many years ago, but while I was writing Derby Double, I felt his presence and put a lot of his boyish charm into the character of Seamus O’Brien.
Mordecai Morphine, Shadow’s Assassin came to me in an entirely different way. He isn’t based on someone I specifically know. He comes from the world of politics. I stumbled upon this guy while doing some research for the Third Eye, specifically conspiracies and scandals. This man was involved in a huge scandal, one that rocked the foundation of this nation. I started to looked into his biography a little and I became fascinated with him. It wasn’t his past deeds that caught my attention, but rather his image. I couldn’t get his image, out of my head, which includes those beady eyes, that receding hairline and that bushy mustache, it all made for a perfect assassin. I added a few touches of my own. Morphine speech is very clipped. He speaks in short phrases rather than long speeches, because that is the nature of a man, who does not wish to be discovered.
As for the rest of the Third Eye characters, they come from my imagination. However that certainly doesn’t mean that in the future a new character may pop up out of nowhere and come from someone I know.
About a year ago about Third Eye I received some feedback. It was constructive criticism and I have heeded some of it. Now it wasn’t that the person didn’t like the idea. They loved the idea, they were riveted. What they wanted me to do was tone Drake’s wise cracks. I tried doing that, but I found it hamstrung Drake’s character. He’s a cynical man, who has been betrayed by the Government, his wife and his best friend. On top of that, he’s had to live with the idea that he was an orphan. The thought of his parents either not wanting him and leaving him all alone in the world has made it hard on him. In essence, Drake’s had very little hope and happiness in his life and all that pain would turn any man cynical. His wisecracks are his defense mechanism, because he doesn’t want anyone to get too close to him.
Whenever I write something too dark, I try to lighten things up a half notch. I always find that this breaks the tension. Your audience is on a roller coaster ride, of suspense, action and adventure. Give them a breather once in a while and allow them to come up for air. One of my favorite scenes in Raiders(We’ve all seen this.)is while trying to save Marian, Indie is confronted with a Samaria Master. He wields his sword , performing all kinds of tricks in an effort to intimidate Indie. Indie watches for a moment, but all he can is just get on with it. So he pulls out his gun and shoots him. It’s Indies way of saying “Don’t you know better than to bring a knife to a gun fight?” Now imagine if that one moment was not in that scene. The audience would be dizzy watching Indie search for Marian all over the Cairo streets. That one moment broke the tension with humor and everyone in the movie theater loved it.
After much thought, I decided that the idea of a telekinetic Private Eye was heavy enough, I needed to find some way of breaking that tension. Drake needed it to play. The character was begging me. “Hey kid, listen, the wisecracks, you have to let me keep the wisecracks, that’s I am.”
Most of the humor doesn’t necessarily come from Drake. The wisecracks come from the situations and the people he surrounds himself with.
I decided that Drake’s team, should be provide most of those moments of humor, so Drake could react with a look or a wisecrack or two. Father Michael, the meddlesom Priest, who raised him. Sometimes his meddling can cause some real headaches for Drake. He would rather see Drake teach Physics at a University than become a Private Eye. Father Mike is always working behind the scenes to do just that.
The there’s Ringer, your typical computer nerd, who loves to hack into the Government and cause all kinds of havoc. He’s surly, hates to be called by his real name, Waldo Kasparsky, and sometimes he feels under appreciated. After all Ringer does the grunt work. Once in a while he’d like a little love from Drake. Drake sometimes has a hard time, convincing Ringer, to buy into what he’s doing. Sheriff Joe Duncam, tries to be serious about his job, and he and Drake do butt heads from time to time, but deep down inside Drake knows there’s a lovable Teddy bear inside. “Now Drake don’t you go riling me up.”(As he says) Harriett Alfredsson, Drake’s ex-wife always manages to come back into Drake’s life, like a bad penny and at the wrong time. Harriett’s flame still burns bright for him. This causes a lot of friction between she and Kitty. Harriett is vain and thinks she’s the center of the universe. She knows Drake has a soft spot for her and she knows how to entice him back. Usually it’s through some missing archaeologist or some missing artifact. She explains, that this is just a minor case and she won’t take up much of his time. Usually this case ends up becoming a lot more than minor and Drake ends up with big problems.
I’ve lived with Drake for a good part of my post college life and leaving him humorless, just kills his character. It would also seriously effect the others around him. Anything too dark, needs a touch of humor. Try it.
No the above image is not for the purposes of giving a sermon. I used it to illustrate what this piece is about. It’s about your script bible. Every Script has it’s own bible. Mine is created through the character sketch. Here’s what I mean.
Drake Darrow has been living inside my head for the last thirty years. In that time, I have taken him through the soap process, to the movie process and now decided he’s a television character. I have always listened to him. He didn’t like being a lawyer, so I waited for him to tell me what he wanted to be. He told me he wanted to be a Private Investigator on an adventure. Later his ego got the better of him and he wanted me to change that and expand him into a television character. From each process, Drake has been there to guide me and move him where he wanted to be. He wanted to have these special telekinetic power, who was I to argue, so I went with it. Besides, I’d never heard of a telekinetic Private Eye before. It sounded cool. Through Drake’s history, I have kept stuff he felt was essential and tossed stuff he didn’t like. All of this came from his character sketch. If you refer to the character sketch post, you will see a questionnaire that allows the writer to get to know their character. The longer you have spent with the character, the more in depth the answers become. The more in depth, and the writer gets a sense of how ell they know their character. With Drake, I have in depth answers about childhood, his past work life, his relationships with other characters, his marital history, his beliefs about religion and much more. All these questions have been written out in such a way, that they have created Drake’s back story. Drake’s back story gives me an idea, of what he has done and where his story will move in the future. He’s the center of the story and what happens to Drake, directly effects every other character in the arc.
My character sketches often lead me to answers about the scrip and to the story arc. The story arc is where the show is going from past history. Because of x-y-z, this will happen. Or maybe it won’t. It depends on whether you decide to throw a few curve balls in along the way. Believe me curve balls are always fun, watch 24 and you’ll see. Once you have your character sketch, and the arc, your essentially setting up your show bible. And by writing a show history, you have your bible. To do that I suggest you keep track of each episode.
Alex Krajek the X-Files played by Nicholas Lea.
Keeping track of each episode is essential. There is nothing more annoying, then writing a script and suddenly discovering that you’ve either repeated yourself or written an episode that makes absolutely no sense, because the show history dictates something different. I have seen that happen to a number of my favorite shows and a number of characters. It can be deeply disturbing. One example I have is the X-Files. When Alex Krajeck(Nicholas Lea) was introduced to the X-Files, he was probably the most despicable and vial human I’d ever seen portrayed on television. I loved him!!!! You had no idea whose side he was going to take or who he was going to back stab next. Krajeck was out for one thing, Alex Krajeck. He didn’t even care about the Syndicate or the Smoking Man. He screwed them over more times than I can count, just to save himself. As the series moved on, I began to see that the show had lost their way with his character and new writers were simply not sure what to do with him. It became very frustrating to me, because they hadn’t looked through the bible and his character’s history. The last season, I never understood why he was sending volts of electricity through Skinner. There was a hint, that he was under Skinner’s control and knew something. We never found out what. So when Skinner shoots Krajeck to save Muldar, no one knew what that history was about. It’s a case of dropping the ball. Don’t you drop the ball, write character sketches from there a story arc and then your bible is easy.
Research! Research! Research! We’ve all heard it since our first history or research paper in high school. The teacher gave you that dreaded homework assignment. You were told to back up your facts by using research, which meant the dreaded ibid, which included the book you got the fact from, the page it was on and if it was a quote, who quoted it. If the research is was not correct you get marked down, or accused of falsification.
The important thing to remember is that research is just as important for a script writer as it is for someone who writes fiction. If the research is not correct, then someone is going to doubt your credibility as a writer.
This brings me to the next important question, is the golden rule correct? Must you always write about something you know? I don’t always feel that is the case. However, we since school that notion has been pounded in our heads. I don’t necessarily always write what I know. I write what interests me. If a writer always writes a topic they are knowledgeable about, then they could stagnate or get blocked. Writing about something you don’t know, allows you to learn something new and it gives you the perfect opportunity to stretch the bounds of your imagination. However; once again if you are going to write about something you don’t know, (here’s that word again) research.
Here’s an example of what I am talking about. The first screenplay I wrote was a sports action adventure drama called “Derby Double” about English Soccer. This was an idea that germinated in my head since I was a little kid living in England.
Every night The BBC nightly news was filled with stories about the conflict in Northern Ireland and I would see it constantly. I was horrified with stories about the bombings in Birmingham, and angered about the injustice of The Guildford Four, falsely accused of terrorism. The war in Northern Ireland was England’s Vietnam. And even though I watched all these events unfold on British television, I must admit I never understood what it was all about. The only thing I knew was that it had to do with Protestants and Catholics and in the eyes of the English, the Catholics were the bad guys and in the British press that’s exactly how they were portrayed. Years later, I would learn a whole lot about what was known as the troubles. I would learn that it was Northern Ireland’s civil rights issue, filled with politics being influenced by an imperial country that had lost it’s footing in the world. A conflict that had it’s roots all the way back to Henry VIII.
I think I was about 13 when I was watching “Match of The Day,” I am not sure of the match, but one team had a heavy predominance of Northern Irish players on the club and a few of them Catholic. I posed the question to myself, “What is it like to be a Catholic Northern Irish Footballer playing in England? Do the crowd get on them?(And English crowds could be very brutal back them.) Do opposing English players or their own teammates give them, as the English would say stick? It was a similar question that is asked now about racism in the English game. I kept that question in my head for many years.
After college, I read a biography of soccer greats. The last biography in the book was George Best, the greatest Football player to ever don the green and white of Northern Ireland. He was considered the Northern Irish Pele, because of the way he could jinked a defender with his magical dribbling skills. The passion this man had for the game was like none other than I ever saw and when you watched Manchester United play, you were riveted to him, because you had no idea what he was going to conjure.
With the question still in my mind and having read the George Best bio and idea came into my head. Now George was the son of a Protestant Belfast dock worker, not Catholic. I knew I wanted to create a character just like him, whose passion was the game and not the sectarian violence. I decided to change my Protagonist to the son of a Catholic Fisherman whose passion was the game of Football. Instead of Manchester United, he supported the enemy, Manchester City. His name was Seamus O’Brien and he lived his dream of playing for his favorite Football club, but there was a cost. The cost was a career ending injury and the assassination of his fiance Hannah Loughlan at the hands of the IRA. Hannah’s dream had always been peace in Belfast. Her vision was to bring Protestants and Catholics together in a sign of unity against the factions of armed destruction, the UVF(Protestant) and the IRA. She wanted a real future for Belfast, without war, Belfast’s economy would improve. Hannah wanted to be a member of the Northern Irish Parliament to bring about that change. She was the next Bernadette Devlin. It was the big Christmas boxing day fixtures in England. Seamus is in an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, performing his magic, while Hannah is the main speaker at a large peace rally in Belfast with Catholics and Protestants in attendance. That same day, Colm Rourke, the leader of the IRA Political wing, Sein Fein meets an IRA Lieutenant named Paddy Cleary to receive his backing with a peace proposal. The meeting was a set up from the start. Paddy was part of the hard line faction that wanted nothing more than English soldiers out of their country for good. There were IRA all over on rooftops and in trucks ready to pounce.
Hannah gives a rousing speech and leads the crowd into the street with signs and chants about taking Belfast back from years of sectarian violence. As she reaches the top of the street, the attack is set into motion and both Hannah and Colm are gunned down, by gun fire coming in all directions.
At the same exact moment, Seamus challenges an Arsenal defender for a ball in the air. He wins the header but his knee gives way and shatters into pieces. Seamus’ career is over and when he returns back to Belfast, he discovers his future with Hannah is over too.
Bitter and angry about the sectarian violence, Seamus vows revenge. Others would rather he seek justice. A documentary film maker from the American Television show Front Line, was filming a documentary on Hannah and he offers Seamus the tape of the attack. Seamus is shocked to discover that his best friend Roary Riordan was the getaway driver. Now Seamus wants more than revenge he wants justice. He joins Interpol. Interpol train Seamus and then they utilize him in many undercover operations. Eventually Seamus’ life comes full circle and he is brought a case that will put him in the path of the man who ordered the assassination on Hannah Loughlan and Colm Rourke, the catch is that to bring the man down, he has to play Football again.
The opening scene of the movie, we see the attack happen at the same time as Seamus’ injury and I started this scene with a narrative from Seamus, explaining his situation and the history of how the troubles began.
In order to make sure my script was authentic, I had to do a whole lot of research on The Troubles. I started by reading a fictional account of the IRA by Leon Uris, called “Trinity.” Then I hopped off to Borders and bought two books on the subject and read them cover to cover. “The Troubles” by Tim Pat Coogan and “A Secret History Of the IRA” by Ed Moloney. I scoured the internet. Google search after google search brought me to names and events I had heard about but never read. I learned about the history of the Easter Uprising and some history long ago which went back to the 1700’s.
I learned about the O’Neill Clan, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Tom Barry and moved on to names more recent that were prominent in the eventual peace that was brought about in Northern Ireland. I learned about names that were more recent, Gerry Adams, Bernadette Devlin, Bobby Sands and Martin McGuinness.
Once I got as much information as I could, I was ready to put together the first quarter of the movie, which all took place in Belfast. Because of all the research I had done, Seamus’ narrative flowed like poetry. I could hear his voice and I could visualize a particular actor I had in my head playing him.
In the opening we see Paddy Cleary preparing the assassination. We see Roary waiting out in the car. We see the tension and sense Roary does not want to be there. He grips the steering wheel as if he is choking a chicken and he smokes one cigarette after another. His only distraction is Seamus’ cup tie. Anytime Seamus creates some magic, Roary is in his corner, screaming at the top of his lungs. We see Hannah give her speech, we watch Seamus in the match. We watch Hannah march down the street. There’s a cutaway to Roary, he recognizes Hannah and he panics. He tears out of the car, determined to take her out of there. He ends up being too late. The whole scene culminates in the attack and Seamus’ injury at the same time. We watch Colm Rourke go down, Hannah goes down and Roary tries to save her, and pleads for her to hang on until he can get help. Seamus is stretchered off the pitch down the tunnel screaming for Hannah. Hannah dies in Roary’s arms. The last shot in the scene is an intercut shot with Roary screaming Hannah’s name in anguish and Seamus doing the same as he is carried off the pitch. This opening scene is an example of what good research can do to enhance the plot of your movie.
The value of research is that it makes the dialogue and the action believable. It doesn’t matter whether you know a subject matter or not. If you don’t research it. By adding some touches of realism through research, your script is apt to be read by someone. If I hadn’t spent a few months doing research about the conflict in Northern Ireland, I don’t believe I would have have as strong an opening in my movie. I would rather have a strong opening filled with research than a weak one without it. Research! Research! Research! A valuable tool for any script writer.
Your movie, television series or play is nothing without a character sketch. I find the character sketch the most essential tool to writing a script. When I write something new, I don’t put any lines or action to a page, unless I have that character sketch first. I feel I cannot move forward without one, because nothing would make sense. It also helps me to keep track of my character. Imagine if George Lucas sat down and just started writing “Raiders of the Lost Arc” without knowing anything about Indiana Jones. He would have had nowhere to go. Even if he scratched Indiana Jones fear of snakes on a notebook somewhere, it was part of his character sketch.
The character sketch gives you an idea of who your character is and what his motivation is within the script. It’s a questionnaire you ask yourself of the character. The first few questions deal with what your character looks like, such as age, height, weight and where and when he was born. You learn about your character your character’s backstory. The back story doesn’t necessarily come in the form of one question, it can come in the form of three or four. For instance, I have a question on my character sketch about religious denomination.
When I was putting together Drake Darrow’s character sketch, the religion question, became an interesting part of his back story. He grew up an orphan in a Catholic Boys school and remained Catholic until he worked for military intelligence. Once his experiment failed, his whole life changed. His powers needed to be harnessed. In a dream he meets a long lost Atlantean, who tells him he is the only one that can save the earth from mankind. The Atlantean directs him to go on a pilgrimage to the far east, where he will meet Tsu Li, Dojo Master who has lived many past lives. Under Tsu’s tutelage, Drake becomes a Buddhist. Buddhism becomes an essential part to mastering his telekinetic powers.
Another portion of Drake’s backstory was a question about whether he had been married or not. I answered the question by saying that Drake had been married to his mentor’s daughter and then I elaborate in the question about where and when the marriage went wrong. I even put together some interesting tidbits of how they met and what their first encounter was like.
Many years ago I was given a book for Christmas called “Successful Script Writing.” The character sketch was the most important part of the book. I have utilized it. I found that not all the questions are relevant and have removed some. I decided to add other questions that I felt I wanted to know. Here is an example of the questionnaire I work from.
3: Age include year born.
4: Astrological sign
5: Physical Appearance:
6: How does the character’s Physical appearance reflect their personality?
7: Describe the Character’s childhood, in terms of where they grew up, how their background effected them, their lifestyle and childhood activities or hobbie.
8: Describe the character’s relationship to his parents.
9: Describer the character’s relationship to siblings.
10: Describe the character’s relationship to other key people in their youth.
11: Describe the character’s education, include anything higher education, or whether they finished school, dropped out, of grammar school, high school or college and any relevant military education.
12: Describe the character’s history after any schooling.
13: Describe the character’s current relationship to parents.
14: Describe character’s current relationship to Siblings.
15: Describe the character’s current relationship to any key people, whether be growing up, or people that had an impact in their life after any education.
16: Describe the character’s romantic life.
17: Is the character married.
18: How does the character feel about Marriage if he is, if not married how does the character feel about the idea of marriage or relationships with significant others.
19: Describe the character’s sex life. How does the character feel about sex. Is the character passionate in bed and to what degree if they are.
20: Does the character have children?
21: If so, what is their relationship to their children.
22: If not how does the character feel about children.
23: What is the character’s religious background.
24: What is the character’s current religious belief.
25: Describe the character’s moral beliefs. Does the character’s actions reflect their moral beliefs. Does the character do what they believe is right or wrong due to certain circumstances. Does the character’s moral beliefs coincide with their religious beliefs.
26: What is the character’s occupation?
27: Describe the character’s relationship to their boss. Is the character their own boss.
28: Describe the character’s relationship to their co-workers.
29: How does the character feel about their job?
30: What are the character’s hobbies or non work activities.
31: Describe the character’s philosophy of life.
32: Describe the character’s political views.
33: Sum of the main aspects of the character’s personality.
34: Describe the character’s state of health.
35: Summarize the character’s relationship to other characters in the script.
36: What is the character’s goal in the script?
37: Why does the character want to achieve this goal?
38: Who or what is trying to stop the character from reaching their goal?
39: What strengths does this character have that will help them achieve this goal.
40: What weaknesses does the character have that will thwart them or hinder them?
41: Does the character have an accent or a dialect?
42: Does the character use slang or professional jargon?
Not all of these questions may suit what you need and you don’t even have to know the answer to every one of these questions. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I skip it and move on to the next. Chances are as I am working on the script, the answer comes to me soon enough and I answer it later on.
So my advice is to work on a character sketch of your own and discover who your character is before you write them. You’ll be fascinated as to what you learn about your character through a simple thing as the character sketch.
Visualizing the character is an essential tool I use to understanding who my character is. Once I visualize the character, I know how they’re going to act, on the page. Drake Darrow is one of those guys that dropped into my mind, straight off the page of a Dashiell Hammett novel. I see him as tall, about 6’2. His build, rugged with matinee idol looks. The type of guy, you’d never believe was a Physicist. He has a strong hard jawline, built much like his chiseled nose. If his week has been rough, he has two or three days of growth on his beard, which can be intimidating to a potential criminal. His eyebrows are thick and bushy. Women are drawn to his deep blue eyes. I had him in a fedora, but I ditched it, when(as stated in a previous post) he came to me and talked to me about it. “Hey kid, ditch the fedora will ya. I’m not Indiana Jones. Besides, hats cut off the oxygen to my brain and I need my brain for thinking.” Or as his sidekick Kitty Lange would say, (And yes she talks to me too.) “Hey Murray, what have you got nuts for brains. Drake, don’t wear a fedora.”
There’s not an ounce of fat on Drake’s body. The man definitely works out, not in the gym, but with his nun chucks and a pull up bar.
Once I had Drake’s physical makeup in my head, the personality and his back story were easy. Just by the way he looked, I could tell, he had some sort of a sordid past. I came up with a story line revolving on what happened at Montauk. His experiment was similar to the Philadelphia Experiment. Back then, Drake was a different man, more congenial. He had a sense of humor. He wore glasses and looked more studious. Things changed when his experiment went badly and he almost died. His best friend betrayed him, his ex-wife betrayed him. Military Intelligence had him committed to a mental institution. When he recovered, he was bitter, cynical and angry. This personality came from how I visualized him.
Visualizing a character doesn’t always come to me. Sometimes I need to write a character sketch down. Of the principal characters in my television series I knew what four looked like before I put them to paper. The others I had to figure out through a character sketch. have a good visual image of two characters for future episodes. One is the most sinister assassin you would ever meet. So before you write that first bit of dialogue visualize your character, it helps to figure parts of them, you haven’t already decided yet.