Having read literally hundreds and hundreds of short scripts over last few weeks as part of 50 Kisses, a piece of advice I was given many years ago is echoing through my mind.
‘You need to put your characters through more pain…’
This advice was given to me after a close and learned friend had read one of my scripts.
It was a revelation, and something I can see in so many of the scripts entered to 50 Kisses.
As writers, either consciously or subconsciously, we tend to protect and love our characters. We connect with them very powerfully, on many levels, and to cause pain to them will often cause pain to us.
Very often I can see myself literally writing myself onto the page (or a fantasy version of myself), or writing a dream character that I am a little bit in love with. And the last thing I really want to do is kick myself or someone I love squarely in the teeth. Again, I saw this trend repeatedly in 50 Kisses.
But kicking them in the teeth is exactly what needs to be done. Find their weakness and exploit it.
As a reader, or a viewer of the final film, I have nowhere near the same depth of connection and relationship with the characters as the writer does.
We all know that the writers job is to make me care deeply, then make it uncomfortable for me, so that I engage more deeply. And to make me care deeply with the very least of information on the page. Less is more. Always. There’s a reason why screenwriting is incredibly hard.
So the question for all of us is, how can we turn the thumbscrews that bit more to put our characters in greater jeopardy and pain?
Have a go right now, just review something your are working on right now and see how much more pain you can plausibly put the character in – and note how you feel about it.
If you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable or queasy, you might be writing about yourself or you may have fallen in love with your characters… And if you have, it’s time to get a bit psycho…