The TV Writer on TV Writing
Characterization Part 3
by Larry Brody
F. Scott Fitzgerald, not exactly known as an action writer, said it best: “In movies, characters are what they do, not what they say.” This is the most important thing you can keep in mind when writing any script for film or TV, and believe me I know how hard it is to remember. After all, we’re writers, aren’t we? Eschewers of the deed who live and die by the word.
In a novel, we get into our protagonist’s mind. We know his or her thoughts. In a stageplay, the flow of spoken dialog is designed to both propel the story forward and illuminate the psyches of the speakers. But in a teleplay or screenplay the only way we can know what a character is thinking is by how he behaves. We never hear his thoughts, and the only time we hear him talking is when he’s in conversation with other people, to whom he could easily be lying.
Action, then, is what gives us our characters’ states of mind. An angry character throws a chair, breaks a mirror. A loving character holds a dear one tenderly. A character who can’t face life literally turns away. Whether the action is large or small, it has to come from within, driven by the needs of the character and therefore illuminating them at the same time.
The next time you sit down to plot out a script, think of yourself as a supreme Existentialist. Sartre wrote that “Existence precedes essence.” Your job as a writer for the visual media is to make Sartre’s words come true. Create events that will give your characters their existence, so that the audience will understand the essence that makes the entire piece come alive.
Larry Brody is the Big Boss here at TVWriter™. Learn more about his storied career.