Characterisation and Dialogue

Thoughts on reading chapter 14: ‘Characterisation and Dialogue’ of Screen Language: From Film Writing to Film Making by Cherry Potter.

I found this to be an interesting and quite enjoyable read. Although it doesn’t particularly cover any new ground for me, it highlights some important aspects of screenwriting that are always worth remembering. Of particular importance was the section that spoke of, as a writer, having to have some sort of empathy with your characters, regardless of whether they are protagonist or antagonist. As Potter points out, this can be uncomfortable or even disturbing, particularly if you’re writing about characters such as child molesters.

It did remind me of a quote about writing – I can’t remember who said it, and I’m paraphrasing here – but essentially it said that every character should believe the story is their story. Regardless of who the character is, they are the hero in their own story, and you should treat their part in the story you’re telling as such.

I also enjoyed the paragraph about being an actor as a writer, saying how you could be an incredibly bad actor in ‘real life’, but:

‘[W]hen you are alone at your writing desk, inside your imagination, you come into your own, you become the most brilliant and versatile of actors… You know what [your characters] are thinking, what they are feeling, what they want and what they don’t want … what they wish they had said and what they regret having said.’

For me, if I can get to a point where I feel the above with my characters, I know that I’ve cracked in. There are many, many times when I don’t get that far with knowing my characters, and when I write them I can tell, because I really have to force it. I need to find some method of getting to the absolute heart of my characters before writing their stories, otherwise I won’t be able to tell them the way my characters want them to be told.

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