Servicing Your Characters


by Diana Black

Last week explored what we must know about a character in The Character Profile – hell, we barely scratched the surface! However, it didn’t include their shoe size, favorite dessert or the color they most like to wear unless those ‘choices’ figure prominently in their psyche; influencing their interaction with those around them and the events unfolding in the narrative..

If we’re to flesh the character/s out in order to get them up off the page, especially in moments when we’re seriously contemplating flipping burgers (or whatever) because of plot issues, then we need to be respectful. If we don’t take our characters seriously, how can we expect people other than ourselves, to root for them?

Besides, we’re ‘in the boat’ with these people for at least three to four months if not longer – living, breathing and sleeping – figuratively speaking, with them in our heads.

To serve them, we must allow them to be themselves in accordance with ‘The Character Profile’ that we’ve taken serious time and effort to create (we have, haven’t we?). Remember The Grasshopper and the Ant? The Character Profile,, for at least the leads, should have enough depth, complexity and quirkiness that we don’t have to go diggin’ at 2 a.m. in the morning, thinking wtf would he or she do/say?

Might I suggest that as a result of us thinking deeply enough about these people, they have the ability to surprise us and bring into the room something we never consciously thought of and deliberately orchestrated. How/why might that happen? Most likely because our creative mind has been ‘background processing’; free to work with the character’s potential that we invested our time and energy into creating.

Let’s assume we have a brilliant, in-depth Character Profile – that’s great, but do we refer back to it?

We should have immersed ourselves in it enough at the get-go that the first draft is ‘in the ball park’ without a painstaking referral – otherwise we might lose the creative flow. But in the re-write, can we go back to every line in the text – action/dialogue, and say, “Yes, this ’choice’ is a true reflection of them.” That’s what actors do – armed with the knowledge of their character’s profile, they are able to play the sub-text because they know what’s driving the character, what buttons are being pushed and make choices accordingly.

So if the choices you’ve locked them into on the page don’t reflect the character brief, how the hell do you expect the actor to deal with it? Life on a 14 hr + set is tough enough without having to make up for your ineptitude or laziness…let’s hope it’s the latter – that at least is fixable.

Let’s take a closer look at the dialogue – it’s not only a matter of what they said but how they said it – perhaps, on the page, revealed in the rhythm of the dialogue between characters. Even more importantly, what didn’t they say and why/why not?

Have you, via the Character Profile, endowed them with enough depth and complexity for them to grow and transform and if so, did you deliver on that?

Remember, stories are essentially memes or ’survival lessons’. Our primeval brain (still) and every other animal’s, is hardwired to listen and observe. Back on the savanna a mere one million years or so ago, ‘a choice’ might have meant the difference between life and death.

Gaining advantage generally equates with more resources and thus more sex, which ensures your genetic profile, figures prominently in the gene pool – that’s the primal driver anyway; manifested by greed.

Aren’t we just lovely?


Diana Black is an Australian actress-writer currently studying and writing in Larry Brody’s Master Class.