Diana Black: Characters in 3D

by Diana Black

“No man (or woman) is an island”. If we’re not relying on somebody in our day-to-day, we’re influenced by them – in admiration of them, jealous, shocked, outraged, repulsed, confused, sympathetic, empathic etc….

As creators of characters, why not use these universal human responses to ‘the other’ in your teleplay? Sounds like ‘a given’ BUT… do we want to be that deliberately formulaic in our ‘what if’/ brainstorming session? It stifles creativity, doesn’t it?

We need some form of dynamic interaction (usually conflict) between characters – across the Series arc, within each episode and within each scene. Does that mean we develop the characters on their own first, then set them free to play well (or not) with others, or do we deliberately designate their response to the lead…they hate them, love them, is enraged by them etc.?

Visualize this:

A police procedural… where some hard-nosed Sergeant (aka you as writer) divvies up who’s going to investigate/deal with what and how. We might see the ‘task’ delegated by the Sergeant barking out orders or, police officers (aka characters) stepping up to the plate and taking on their choice of assignment – depending on their past successes or failures (aka the character’s previous experience – wins or loses, with the lead character).

If we map this analogy to its fruition, it might sound something like this, “OK boys and girls who is going to hate [lead character], who wants to fall in love with the schmuck, who wants to be rescued…?”

Well, in a roundabout way, we’ve come to realize we need each character in 3D first (complete character profile – yes???!!) before we can set them free to play. Otherwise we might find the supporting character/s written as falling in love with the lead character but according to the character profile you’ve previously devised , they’re incapable of loving or forming a relationship.

Or, if the profile hasn’t been created, we’ll see inconsistencies across the narrative – in the Pilot and subsequent episodes – because you don’t have a reference frame (aka Bible) to fall back on.

Essentially, the character profile has to be written in full and ring true on the page – consistently. Recall that the choices you’ve made on that Character Profile inform the character’s action and responses via dialogue.

These aspects underlie them and something they can work with or against – IF they’re fully-fledged and intelligent beings capable of modifying their modus operandi if given enough provocation. Or, maybe they’re ‘damaged goods’ – incapable of making an adjustment …their fatal flaw…it all gets back to that Character Profile doesn’t it?

If you’ve done your homework and the characters are 3D and you’ve ensured they define each other, the characters will interact organically and start making their own choices – dialogue and action as if by magic and you’re left in ‘catch-up’ mode sans writer’s block.

To put it another way, if you’ve got a balanced and solid interweave between character strengths, weaknesses and traits – in this way they’ll strengthen and define each other. They’ll be ‘off the page’ and you’ll be simply documenting via the script, all that they do and say.

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)