Friday, November 7, 2008

Characters with Intent

Whether or not you're working from outline or the sense of being so immersed in your story that your characters are talking to you, sending you sensory messages about where they want to be and what they want to be doing, there is a moment between the ending of the last scene and the beginning of the next when you might with good reason stumble.

The moment of stumble may arrive when the new scene begins, not with a dramatic sweep of intensity but rather a confused moment or two when the characters seem dazed, as though having eaten a too large meal, suffered through a boring lecture, or worse, entered the wrong story (See Mario Vargas Llosa's remarkable Aunt Julia and the Script Writer.)

To prevent this beginning-of-the-scene stumble, you need some preparation. A simple laundry list will do it, a list for each character:

1. What is the character just coming from--what had he/she just done?

2. What is the character doing right now?

3. What is the character's immediate goal? (What does he/she want right now?)

I am particularly reminded of my mentor the actor telling me her experience on opening night when a fellow actor, appearing in his first Broadway play and having been lackluster in rehearsals, seemed not to be waiting in the wings for his cue to go on, then was reported to have been seen out in the alleyway, chinning himself on a fire escape. At length the actor appeared, sweaty and breathless from his exertions, gasping for breath as he delivered his first lines. Thus did Marlon Brando "prepare" himself for his portrayal of a character who was nervous and excited. Here was a character who felt his nervous excitement, then behaved accordingly.

The character moves into the scene with at least the subtext of having recently been doing something else, possibly not wanting to be here.

The character is here with intent in place.

Some of us may have our characters scoot about like the bump cars in an amusement zone, exchanging meaningless dialogue, more or less warming themselves up for the essential movements and behavior of the scene; others in our midst may have made a story board or, as I do, rely on a few scribbled notes on a three-by-five index card. All these and other similar roads lead to the payoff of fully informed characters starting in fully engaged presence.

It might illustrate the point for our writing self to stop for a moment before we enter a new scene--any new scene--in our world of reality, then take note of what we are bringing to it in terms of past history, attitude, agenda, hoped-for action, perhaps even a sense of what we will do after that.

1 comment:

Rowena said...

Great. This is exactly where I am and exactly what I have been having problems. Transition from one scene to the next. Particularly in my current transition from one society to a completely different and strange one.

Maybe I need to slow down a little and take some consideration. Or maybe I just need to write my way in and allow the twists and turns.

I know what I need to happen in the upcoming scenes, but I think I am not considering how much else needs to be shown.