What do your characters really, really, really want?

A casual but very important lesson in writing for the screen, whether that screen is big, small, or, you know, even smaller, from one of TV’s comedy writing masters:

by Earl Pomerantz

A while back, I mentioned the primary lesson I learned while attending “The Actors’ Workshop”, which I later applied – when I remembered to – to my writing.

The lesson involved the actor’s pre-determination of their character’s “intention.”  Before you begin, if you first identify your character’s – or characters’ if you are writing or playing numerous parts – intention, articulated in a single, declarative sentence, you are productively off to the races – completing the horseracing analogy – right from the starting gate.

It turns out there is another equally important lesson, which I was reminded of when I saw Brooklyn, which I enjoyed primarily for its writing.  (Although less so for its directing, which seemed disservicingly sanitized.)

The screenplay for Brooklyn, based on a novel by Colin Toibin, was written by novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity and About A Boy, to name just two, both of them made into enjoyable movies.)

The lesson I was reminded of watching Brooklyn – and I do not recall for certain where I originally learned it – was…


This directive seems obvious in acting since, at the very least, unless it’s a Howard Hawks movie, the actor has to listen for the other actor to stop talking before they begin talking.  Otherwise, the audience will be unable to understand what either of them is saying.

But listening, for actors, means more than just waiting for your theirto speak.  It involves listening, to interpret the words they are hearing’s underlying intent.  It helps a lot if the script’s dialogue, rather than saying it all, leaves actors something to interpret.

And in Brooklyn, it does….

Read it all at Earl Pomerantz’s blog