Connecting with characters: Editor's Notes, March 2003
Published: February 3, 2003
|Technological advances certainly have contributed to fantastic filmmaking, delighting, frightening and transporting us to imaginary worlds. But special effects alone are no substitute for good writing. We love the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies because we care about the characters and are pulled into their adventures. Without good writing and good character development, even the most spectacular scenes have little meaning.|
To write a great movie, you begin with a great scene, says veteran screenwriter Rich Reichman in "7 elements of a good movie scene." You build your characters, too, scene by scene. For example, You Can Count on Me, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's bittersweet story of the loving but conflicted relationship between a brother and sister, is near perfect from a writing standpoint. Every scene, every character, every word counts. The dialogue is natural and funny, expressing a range of honest emotions. I saw this movie more than a year ago, and I still think about the characters. That's what good movie writing can do.
The ability to create memorable characters is the thread that connects all good writing, whether it's for movies, television or novels. In "The ties that bind," Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet discuss key elements that go into creating characters readers will care about. Emmy Award-winning writer Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street) talks about the importance of building a character over the period of a television season. ("It's all about your characters"). If the characters don't grow or change, he says, the series becomes stagnant.
Newbery Award-winner Katherine Paterson, who frequently writes about troubled children, considers the issue of characters as role models in her essay, "The responsibility to write." They are not, she says. "We allow our characters to do or say all kinds of reprehensible things. ... The writer is not judge or executioner of her characters. She cannot be, because she is not outside her characters. She belongs deeply to them and they to her."
If you can make that kind of deep connection with your characters, your readers will also.