Writing the Character Profile

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by Diana Black

In a previous article, The Creative Process, we concluded that a sound knowledge and understanding of creative writing principles along with a penchant for creativity, must be ‘in the room’ if we are to transform blank pages into a polished Teleplay. It must sparkle like a diamond amidst a pile of…..

Diamonds are tough, the hardest substance known – able to scratch any other substance, including metal. Graphite is one of the softest; so soft we can use it as a pencil and leave a stream of molecules sliding off onto the page in the form of words comprising the rough draft of our teleplay. Diamond and Graphite are pure substances comprised of only one element – Carbon. So how can this be?

It’s all about structure – more precisely, molecular structure. Both Diamond and Graphite are allotropes (forms) of Carbon. End of science lesson…almost.

We know that structural elements – Concept, Character, Premise, Theme, Design Principle and Plot – inciting incident, crises, climax, denouement etc., must be present and regarding plot, in an order that makes sense in the specific narrative – if we want to have a compelling story; let alone one that sparkles.

Take a close look at a cut and polished diamond. Regardless of the size, if it’s been ‘cut’ properly, it will reflect the ‘captured’ light within its structure and thus appear to sparkle – the light is undergoing ‘internal reflection’ – bouncing off the inner surface of the facets. The more facets (sides) cut into the diamond, the more it will sparkle. When we gaze upon the diamond, all we see is the ‘dance of light’ – mesmerizing. We can’t discern its structural complexity nor can we see the marks of the jeweler; only the manifestation of his/her artistry.

So be it with character.

If we do not provide complexity (the ‘facets’) if you will, to the character profile, we’ll end up with a shallow, mono-dimensional character. He/she will be unable to ‘carry’ or serve the vision of the story. This goes for all characters, but particularly the leads – protagonist AND antagonist.

If we’ve given the character no scope, no ‘real’ life – internal and external, they’ll fight back. We’ll run out of steam and most likely end up in Act II hell (or worse) and the character will look like a dick on the page, with their life and adventure destined for the trash bin.

Even with a sound premise, how can we put the character through hell if we don’t know their wants, needs, secrets, fears, their world view, areas of expertise, their internal pain and turmoil etc.? What about their success or failure in social circles and with whom? Why are they so great or such a dismal failure?

We won’t be able to enrich the plot with ‘landmines’ or ‘treasures’ – well we can, but we won’t know whether the character recognizes them and if they do, how they’ll react. What will they do and say? We need to know what choices they’ll make when confronted with pain. What for them constitutes unbearable pain? Is it the same for each character? If we don’t know how they’re likely to react under pressure, how can we predict the influence they’ll have over others in their world when shit hits the fan? They must be ‘real’ because they are ‘us’ (the reader, the viewer, a version of us perhaps) and therefore they must resonate – on some emotional level and be familiar, yet not. If we expect the reader to perceive them as real then hadn’t we?

There is another disfavor we can subject them to – not allowing them to be true to their profile… but that’s another story…

 


Diana Black is an Australian actress-writer currently studying and writing in Larry Brody’s Master Class.