They’re more important than most people readers and viewers think, as pretty much every writer in every genre and type of writing knows. If you, as a writer, DON’T know that, then it’s time to step back and ponder.
“Bond, James Bond.” Who hasn’t read and/or heard that line? Now, what if he had been named Harold Schwartz by Ian Fleming? Not quite the same.
How about Harry Potter? It’s pretty darn English, easy to remember and it has a certain strength and stability to the name. Fitting for a Wizard.
Names are important. They’re important for the screenwriter and the novelist, the short story writer, and the play write. Say any name out loud and instantly preconceptions spring to mind in the reader, the watcher of a movie and even the writer him or herself.
Names are many things. They can reflect culture, faith, family backgrounds (surely you know someone who carries a ‘family’ name as a middle name) and more.
Names can even play a role in forming a personality and they can have impacts on interactions. Katherine can be Katy, Kit, Kate, Cat, Kitten, or some other variation.
And, usually, the person with the name will have ‘professional’ acquaintances who perhaps know her as Katherine, a mother who calls her Kit, maybe a boyfriend who calls her Cat, and friends who know her as Katy.
I’m Peggy. Many think it’s a derivative of Margaret but in my case I was named Peggy. I usually go by Peggy. Some call me Peg but I don’t much care for it so it’s usually people who don’t know me well. If I were a character, and others called me Peg, it would mean they weren’t as close to me as they probably thought.
Whether writing a screen script or something else, a name helps define the character, expose the real personality. It can be fun searching for just the right name to put that character’s personality across or it can be a sort of hell.
Sometimes we just kind of go blank. One resource I check in on is, here it comes – The Social Security Administration’s records of baby names at https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/
If you’re writing something with a Victorian Era flavor you might check out http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~poindexterfamily/genealogy/OldNames.html
If it’s something SciFi/Fantasy, quirky, or you just need something really unusual you can try http://www.nexi.com/fun/rw/index.html
Nexi.Com, by the way, offers a cool bonus: “…if you want to generate some new girl’s names, feed it a list of girl’s names, and it will take them apart and discover how to make girl’s names, then come up with a list of words that are very similar, but probably never before seen.”
What makes that cooler, if you think about it for a minute, is that plainly that also would apply to any words you’d want to put into the generator.
All this is great, and I especially enjoy researching names and checking out the etymology. There are lots of name search engines out there and lots of baby name books and resources. Poke around and you’ll find an endless stream.
The KEY, though, is getting the right name for the right character and that said, being willing to change a name if it just isn’t right…and the ability to recognize, perhaps half way through, when a name isn’t right.
There’s no magic to choosing that name. It’s up to you. Just dig in, try to settle on realistic names that fit, don’t have everyone’s names begin with the same first letter, and be open to those few times when a story may demand an exceptional name.
Try to stay historically and geographically accurate. Don’t be afraid to use good ol’ stand-bys like Joe and John and Katherine, or even Margaret. And, in general, steer away from gender-neutral names as they just complicate things. Keeping those few things in mind just makes everything that much more real.
Name your characters like they’re your best friends. For many of us, readers and viewers and writers, they are!
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.
LB’S NOTE: It takes four qualities to be a true artist:
You need to speak the truth.
You need the courage to expose your inner self.
You need talent.
You need craft
In this piece, Bri Castellini proves she’s got it all.
by Bri Castellini
I don’t know how to write about sexuality. I absolutely don’t know how to write about mine. Because for most of my life, and all of my dating life, I was, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman.
I’m not/never was, and ignorance of the law is not a defense, but I lived as if I were a heterosexual woman. I only expressed and understood my attraction to men, I only dated/romantically pursued men, and I assumed that someday, I would have and be interested in sex. I hope my family stopped reading this at the first sentence because jeezer creezer are they not gonna enjoy the rest of this.
This is a post about how I don’t know how to write about my sexuality because I so completely “pass” as heterosexual and lived most of my life AS heterosexual and navigating queer spaces is intimidating and odd because of that.
I identify now much more complexly, as a bi asexual woman. Attracted to multiple genders, sexually attracted to none. Let’s break this down so it’s easier to talk about:
This one is more widely known about me, because my last two major film projects (Ace and Anxious, Sam and Pat Are Depressed) have featured asexual female leads and because in all the press I do about them I bring up the fact that asexuality representation is super important to me being asexual and confused all the time.
Asexuality, for the uninitiated, is defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction.
Asexuality is NOT:
Aromanticism, or someone who does not experience ROMANTIC attraction. You can be asexual and (like me) have/want romantic relationships.
Celibacy, or someone who chooses to not have sex at all or until a certain time in the future (like choosing to not have sex before marriage)
Sex repulsion. It can also be sex neutral, and many people (as pointed out by both protagonists of Ace and Anxious and Sam and Pat) who identify as asexual have sex, for various reasons that are entirely their own.
We aren’t going to talk about my sex life, now or [likely] ever, which admittedly makes being an advocate for asexual representation complicated. The reason isn’t because I’m not open to talking about it, but because my sexuality and my experiences with it are intrinsically tied to my partner, and my partner shouldn’t be subjected to weird questions or having his sex life dissected for all to see just so I can be more candid during interviews.
What I will say is that discovering that asexuality was a thing changed my life for the better. I realized that certain frustrations and embarrassments and emotions I was experiencing had an explanation. I realized I wasn’t broken, or defective, just different, and identifying as asexual allowed me to feel more comfortable in literally every part of my relationship and my life. And I found out about it on Tumblr.
Thought 1 of 2 on media representation: I didn’t know I was an atheist/agnostic until I discovered it was an option. After learning that some people didn’t believe in God from a friend at school, I thought… huh. I guess I’m that, then. The same thing happened with asexuality- I legitimately never heard of it as an option. I assumed sexual desire was a given and that if my experiences went against that, then I was broken and there was something wrong with me/my brain/my ability to “just relax.” Representation is important because it tells people the most basic thing: that there are many options for who you might be. Presumably, this is why many religious people don’t want secularism or homosexuality mentioned in school.
I’m supposed to call it “biromantic” because, as established, I am the other side of the spectrum of “sexual,” but for me, personally, that feels bizarre and unnatural. So I go by “bi asexual” because I like the way it looks. Get off my nuts.
I discovered this fun twist recently, like in the past 4-5 months, after I saw, no shit, a photoshoot of Tessa Thompson and thought… OH.For the first time it really hit me that I wasn’t looking at those photos and thinking “she’s pretty!” I was looking at those photos and thinking “DAMN.” It’s a subtle difference given that I don’t experience sexual attraction, but trust me, I felt it. And looking back, so many things in my life make so much more sense.
Thought 2 of 2 on media representation: compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a patriarchal society, implying it is the natural order of things. Compulsory heterosexuality gets particularly confusing when you can partially genuinely identify as such, ie, when you are attracted to 2 or more genders. So when I was a kid/young adult, I assumed because of the patriarchy that I was heterosexual because I knew for sure I was attracted to men. Therefore, anytime someone tried to tease me for being a lesbian or someone asked if I was attracted to women, my answer was “no, because I like men,” and that was true. Anytime I looked at an attractive woman and had a quiet conversation with myself about whether or not my appreciation of her was attraction or platonic observation, I would settle the query with “no, I definitely like men, so it must be platonic observation.” The two, as I’ve come to learn, are not mutually exclusive. However, when there is barely any bisexual representation in media, and the patriarchy has its claws in everything, it’s easy to understand why it took me so long to realize that I can also be attracted to women, because of the fact that I was raised only knowing a binary system. I don’t remember when I learned that bisexuality was an option, but it definitely wasn’t before college.
Bisexuality does NOT mean that:
I want to open up my relationship to experiment with women. I’m not with my partner because I thought I was heterosexual when we started dating; I’m with him because I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him.
I am less attracted to my partner. In the same way that finding another man attractive does not negate my attraction to my partner, adding more genders to the finding-other-people-attractive opportunity pile also does not. You can find multiple people attractive even if you’re only interested in a relationship with one.
I’m interested in threesomes. Asexual, remember?
I’m more likely to cheat on my different gendered partner. Finding more genders than initially expected attractive does not in any way change my relationship with my current partner. At all. Ever. Period. My relationship with my partner exists on a completely separate plane from my various sexuality discoveries, because relationships, as my friend Jules pointed out in a recent video, do not have sexualities.
“Passing” refers to “the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own.” For example, a trans person who outwardly “does not appear to be trans” (a pretty derogatory thing to be looking for in the first place) is considered “passing” as cisgendered (defined: a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth), or a light skinned Latino person might be considered “passing” as white. As both cisgendered and white people hold immense privilege in society, not being part of those communities but being able to “pass” as if you are awards you some of those privileges yourself. In my case, I can easily “pass” as heterosexual because I’m a cisgendered woman in a long term, sexually active, committed relationship with a cisgendered man. Therefore, I benefit both from heterosexual passing (the ability to marry my partner if he wanted to get married, the ability to walk the streets and not be harassed by homophobes, the ability to adopt children easily and probably not be discriminated against for jobs) and from allosexual passing (allosexual meaning that you experience sexual attraction/ are not asexual). Boy howdy do I hope the folks have long since stopped reading this blog.
There is a long and complicated history in the queer world about who belongs and who doesn’t, and the various ways that passing preclude you from being welcome in queer spaces where camaraderie and shared discrimination are big parts of the conversation and culture. Let’s be very clear: I am not in any way saying that I think queer spaces are all about sharing trauma, or only about sharing trauma. But I am saying that there is are reasons queer spaces exist, and many of those reasons don’t apply to someone who “passes” as not-queer, or who only recently discovered they were queer. And that’s a weird place to be.
I know I would be welcome in most queer communities, online and off. I was recently invited to speak at FlameCon, an LGBT+ ComicCon in NYC. My short film has over 26k views on YouTube with the most common comment after “#relatable” being “finally! Asexual representation!!” I am a bi, asexual woman. But I also feel like I have no right to be in some of these spaces, where people are estranged from family due to their sexuality, or have experienced physical or emotional trauma as a result, or who have known their sexuality for years and struggled with internalized homophobia and self hatred, or who don’t “pass” and therefore must live every moment with the weight of what that means in our society coloring their every move.
Do I deserve to join queer discourse? Do I even deserve to refer to myself as queer? As far as I can tell, I’m going to be in my existing monogamous, heterosexual relationship for the rest of my life, so I won’t be dating women or nonbinary people. I won’t ever be judged by a patriarchal, homophobic society because of the person I choose to spend my life with. I won’t ever have to decide whether or not it’s safe for my partner and I to hold hands in public. I won’t have to worry about so many things that others who share my sexuality do, and that is an incredible privilege. I am so, so privileged in so many ways, and would need/want very different things out of a place in the queer community than many others.
And yet, I am queer.
What does that mean, in practical terms? I’m not sure. But here we are.
Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Director at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Watch the remarkable Ms. Castellini’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE. See Sam And Pat Are Depressed HERE. This post first appeared on Bri’s wonderfully refreshing blog.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you haven’t already read Part 1, now would be a good time.
by Diana Black
Let’s say you now have a motley crew with which to flesh out the story world… the latter can be achieved via the seemingly almost magical ‘What If’ – an outline/description of all the aspects of the story world you’re creating.
If you have a singular lead (not an ensemble cast) then the narrative will be seen through his/her lens, but regardless, it remains a work in progress as things come to mind. Do your homework on this from the get-go. It’s far easier if you set up a solid foundation, even if most of it is never used, than having to scramble to come up with something out of the box when the suit/s say, “Let’s talk.”
List every aspect you can think of via bullet points – the rules a.k.a. the modus operandi, including the geographical, social, and chronological parameters that govern or exist in this fictitious world. Work through the ‘5 W’s’ – the where, when, what, who and why for each of the major characters.
If you’re working on a TV series, you’ll get lucky with some of this material providing valuable insight into the ‘Legs’. If it’s a Feature; this effort could provide resource material for the ‘B’ & ‘C’ sub-plots.
Don’t hold back, be outrageous – you never know what ‘nuggets of gold’ you’re likely to unearth. You can then use a polished version of the ‘What If’ to help create ‘The Bible’ for the series.
For an extreme example of ‘outrageousness’ look at the television series, Shameless (Showtime, 2011 – 2018); what’s even more outrageous is the thought that this level of dysfunctionality could indeed be a ‘slice of life’ for some hapless people, here on American soil.
The antics of Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) would make Homer Simpson blush.
For both the characters and the story world, they need to be larger than life. While the plot might be ‘slice of life’, the characters and their world can’t be – your creation isn’t a documentary (possibly a mockumentary).
Regardless, all three components cannot be the same – you either have ordinary characters in an extraordinary world where the weirdest stuff happens, or it’s larger than life characters, struggling to deal with an excruciatingly ‘ordinary’ world and failing.
Okay, now we’re about to enter the work in progress phase by entering this amazing world and giving ourselves permission to play… but just prior to closing the door completely on the outside and stepping ‘in’, I suggest you do the following…
This next step is onerous and time-consuming, but it’s an investment in the future – for the series and for you as the writer – you’ll look so awesome if you already have in place a detailed document for each substantial character, the In-depth Character Profile.
I’m currently writing a Telemovie/ Limited Series and for most of the leads (an ensemble piece) each profile is around 8 – 10 pages. Suffice to say, these documents take ‘forever’ to write, but once done, there’s LOTS of things you know about your character, which you can then draw upon, as need be.
I’d advise you to do this on computer – draw up a table with the following sections:
Narrative Arc (from their POV)
Specific ‘issues’ (they contend with)
Character arc (do they grow/change?)
Subtext logline (their essential character e.g. ‘damaged goods’)
Subtext (what’s really going on, are they cognizant about it or not)
Subtext identity (what drives them subconsciously)
Potential drivers to their subtext, that include intimate relationships – past & present, relationships with other characters, backstory of the character, world view, belief system/s, attitudes/convictions, source of passion -what do they care about
Attitude towards the natural environment
‘Life metaphor’ (code of ethics or lack thereof)
Rules they obey (or not )
Strategies they use to get what they want
Justification for the way they feel and act)
Character traits – physical and psychological
Character flaw (and why)
Paradoxes – personality and behavior
Source of vulnerability
Meaningful and difficult Choices including rising Challenges across the narrative arc
Know that in each category, you need to answer the above in relation to the premise, theme and story-world you have set up – just don’t make shit up – it must resonate with the narrative, and the other characters.
Now go a step further and develop a Character Web, as in how are the Characters and the incidents occurring in their respective back stories related?
This is mind-bending stuff, but it serves two functions – the characters, if they’re ‘real’, will evolve on the page – you’ll learn things about them you never knew existed.
I know this sounds ‘loopy’ – just get on with it. I’ve come from a scientific background where being analytical and detail-oriented, ruled supreme and in my humble opinion, if you want a really, rich story world and 3-dimensional characters, you’ve just got to do this stuff.
Also, because the characters are so tightly integrated, the narrative will be a cohesive whole AND it will make each character much harder to cut or merge… the actor who lands the role will thank you.
You won’t have these documents set in stone at the outset, but the dynamics between the characters and their interrelationships (the Character Web) will have begun to evolve as you set them on their narrative journey.
Trust yourself as the writer and trust the characters. Don’t forget they’re relying on you to serve them well. Don’t cheat them of anything less than your undivided attention, or they may just bite you on the butt and ‘stop talking.’
P.S. I’d also advise you work on these character documents – an hour on/fifteen minutes off, and so on.
See you in the next article… TV Checklist – Part 2
Diana Black is an optioned screenwriter who has placed in competitions with features and teleplays. She’s also a professional actor with a Bachelor of Creative Arts – Drama, Film & TV and a regular contributor to TVWriter™.
[Last week we] wrapped principal production on Sam and Pat Are Depressed season 2 today, almost exactly a year after we wrapped production on season 1, and I can’t quite wrap my head around that feat. We shot 48 pages of script in 4 days, which, for those of you outside the film industry, is “bananas,” to quote my DP Conor.
We hit 100% on our little Seed&Spark campaign in 15 hours, then eventually hit 253%, which allowed us to splurge on things like more food for cast/crew on shoot dates, production design, wardrobe, and more. This season looks fricking incredible, and it’s because of this little community we’ve built, of friends new and old, and I’m so beyond grateful. As is common when I finish productions, this is a thank you blog.
Chris Cherry really stepped up this season, writing two episodes (episode 5 and 7!) and joining me as an Executive Producer, in spite of the fact that I wrote him WAY more complicated prop gags and he hates doing that many things at once. He’s a good egg (spoiler for season 2, episode 7) and I couldn’t be more honored to have him as a creative partner in this process. Thank you for making my script funnier and better, and sweating on camera through a heat wave to bring more of this story to life.
Andrew Williams is an incredible comedy director, but it was his ability to help Chris and I “find the pain” that truly sets him apart and makes him the perfect fit for this project yet again. We didn’t make it easy on him this season, with double the pages and significantly higher expectations, but he came through and THEN some. This season looks so, so, so cool, and it’s almost entirely because Andrew refuses to settle for “good enough.” Thank you for not letting my efficiency brain overrule your creative one.
Michele Austin Rodriguez stepped into the position of Associate Producer, Script Supervisor, and, at the absolute last minute, Sound Recordist, and I absolutely trusted her with every single one of those roles because Michele is a BAMF. She also heralded all of the cute little promo videos from the Seed&Spark campaign into existence, played a new character in season 2 with an absolutely delightful energy, and knowing she’s on my team always makes me calmer. She also provided much needed Girl Power energy on a big set o’ boys, and I love her for it.
Kris Keochinda was also a new teammate, and immediately stepped into the roles of Associate Producer and Assistant Director, and I already have the paperwork filled out to adopt him, because he was unbelievable. He was behind most of the Seed&Spark updates, pre-writing a bunch of social media posts and pitching ideas that boosted our contributions when we sorely needed them boosted. On set, Kris was a powerhouse, keeping the rest of us idiots on task despite the heat, the insane page counts we were aiming for, and how exhausted every single one of us was. Behind every great set is a Kris Keochinda, otherwise it’s not actually a great set.
Conor Phillips joined us in the last week of pre-production after we lost our original DP (Brandon Smalls) and then our other DP (Kelly Robinson), and he didn’t just deliver. He completely transformed both the project and our set for the better. Conor is a big weirdo who fit right in and whose sense of humor tethered us to reality when all we wanted to do was stick our heads in ice buckets and give up on the whole thing. He was also an incredibly hard worker who, despite being as burnt out as the rest of us, traveled the furthest to set, did the most physically demanding things, and still captured Sam and Pat gorgeously for all of you to soon enjoy.
Colin Hinckley is a special guest star in episode 2, and was forced to wear long sleeves on our first morning of production at the beginning of a truly horrifying NYC heat wave. He was also absolutely hysterical in spite of the how uncomfortable our circumstances were, and I’m humbled to have gotten to work with him on 2 of the 4 projects I’ve been on this year.
Rebecca McDonald doesn’t even live in New York City anymore and still managed to help us coordinate new wardrobe for season 2, bringing us beer from the brewery she works at in CT with her to our final meeting. Rebecca is the wind beneath my wings, and I can’t quite believe that an angel of her stature continues to bless us with her fabulous self.
Page Schumacher is the reason Alison Sumner’s bedroom is perfect, and after being away from NYC for a few years, is back and the reason Sam and Pat’s new apartment looks exactly as you would imagine two partially functional depressed people would have. She incorporated all our weird set dressing requirements into a space that we weren’t just excited to film in, but I’m now excited to continue living in.
Jay Cowan is someone I’ve heard a lot about from Chris since they’re coworkers, but we never had the pleasure of meeting until he got involved in season 2 as a special guest star in an episode I’m absolutely not revealing to you until it happens. Jay has been a fan and supporter of Sam and Pat’s from the beginning, and we’re thrilled we got to physically involve him this season. In a way, again, that I refuse to divulge. Because it’s funner that way.
Kelly Robinson was almost our DP, then had to back out at the last minute because of some unfortunate scheduling stuff with another project she’s on. Successful and talented people are the worst, amirite? We couldn’t have done this without Kelly, because even though she was only at one meeting with us, we used the shooting schedule she helped us devise in the eventual production and developed some of our favorite shots as a result of conversations with her. She was with us in spirit and we are so, so grateful for it.
Brandon Smalls was also almost our DP again, but due to his commitments at Columbia wasn’t able to join us on set this time. It’s actually the first of my projects Brandon hasn’t been on since Brains season 2, sadly. However, Brandon still loaned us all of his equipment so we could make the best season possible, which he absolutely did not have to do. Thank you, Brandon, for being with us even when you couldn’t physically be with us.
Grady Christopher was almost our sound recordist, but again, scheduling was not our friend. In spite of this, he graciously loaned us some excellent sound equipment for the first weekend and helped us find a great deal on equipment for the second, completely for free because he believed in what we were doing and because he’s distinctly delightful. I met him on my second production of the year, hired him for the third, and getting to involve him in any capacity for this fourth one is a testament to how amazing he is. I can’t wait for whatever the fifth and sixth and 100th end up being.
Quinn Ramsay is not only everyone’s favorite Sitting Man (who you may or may not see again in season 2), but also the chef behind the final shot of this season AND my ever-excellent life partner. He dealt with his home being overrun for two weekends in a row, confined in our bedroom and not allowed to make noise or go to the bathroom without permission. And he still kept a smile on his face and made me dinner afterwards and made sure that I was taking care of myself. I absolutely do not deserve this human being in my life, but I will spend whatever time I have left on this Earth trying to.
And finally, a huge big thank you to all our Seed&Spark pledges. Sam and Pat season 1 was written to be the simplest possible production, and in many ways it was, but Sam and Pat season 2 needed to escalate in more ways than one.
Our script was double the pages, quadruple the work, and at least eight times more expensive, and to offset that, we decided to do a small (initial goal of $700) Seed&Spark campaign to help pay for some props and some food.
As mentioned, our pledges then went above and beyond and we got to splurge on better stuff and on more food and on a podcast we’ll be releasing to lead up to the new season.
We also were able to reach way more people than we would have before the Seed&Spark, making it the first thing we’ve crowdfunded where we legitimately reached outside our own personal networks to find folks on the internet interested and invested in seeing more content like ours.
That’s a feeling you can’t buy, and I will never be done saying thank you. Thank you to everyone who gave any amount of support to us, because we truly believe in this weird little thing we’ve made and we could not have done it without you.
Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Director at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Watch the remarkable Ms. Castellini’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE. See Sam And Pat Are Depressed HERE. This post first appeared on Bri’s wonderfully refreshing blog.