Get To Know Your Character!

Author: Julia Horcajo Hernández

When reading scripts, I often find that people abuse stage directions or dialogue to share information about their characters.

We as humans are very complex and so are our characters. I truly believe Good (or whatever does it for you) is in the details and it is the writer’s duty to know the character’s back story inside out, but it is also the writer’s responsibility to know how much of it to share, when and how.

Don’t waste your pages creating a soapy scene where your characters talk about their past just so you can let the audience know more about them. If that information is not going to tell us something important for the story or move your character’s relationship forward, then you don’t need it. Sometimes it is more effective to find visual ways to share certain information or even to hide it.

When building your character think:

  • Where does your character come from (Geographically, economically, educationally)?

  • What do they believe in?

  • Do they have any physical particularity? If so, where does it come from?

These will inform who your character is and how they react to the situations presented in front of them.

For example, when thinking about where your character is from, first ask yourself “is it relevant to the story?” if you just want to add texture you can choose to reveal it through an accent, by the clothes they are wearing, or even through a passing comment or a joke.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you have all the answers but only 90 to 120 pages and nothing should be incidental. If you are choosing to reveal something it should be because it means something.

Royale With Cheeses scene in PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarantino)

The Royale With Cheeses scene in Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) is seemingly a fun conversation about the differences between Europe and America, but is it?

This exchange is already telling us that these two characters come from very different worlds, Vincent has traveled, seen the world, while Jules has never left America. It is also a big juxtaposition to the following scene, and it touches upon the lack of morals of these characters that can be joking about burgers one minute and killing people the next.

Tallahassee and the Twinkies ZOMBIELAND (Rhett Reese / Paul Wernik)

It is stated earlier on that even though Tallahassee is a badass zombie killer with no fear he has a very clear weakness. His obsession with finding Twinkies is the main drive for various scenes, it moves the story forward and more importantly, it has a clear payoff at the end. It wasn’t a simple humorous tool to force the plot.

When he finally gets “the last twinkie” we understand that in a world overtaken by Zombies enjoying the little things is essential!

Julia Horcajo Hernández joined Unstoppable Entertainment (now Unstoppable Film and Television) in 2016. Before that she was based in Spain, where she worked in different fields, such as advertising for Zapping M&C Saatchi Madrid; Television, in the production department for different non scripted programmes, under the Mediapro Group; and music, where she joined the A&R department at Universal Music Spain.

Since joining the Unstoppable team, Julia has worked on different projects such as TIFF’s selected ‘Brotherhood’ and LFF’s ‘The Fight’ among others.

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