The desire of any screenwriter is to have realism flow through their fingertips and onto the screen. Whether your story is set in modern-times or in a fantasy world, realism is the gatekeeper between a good idea and a great story. Establishing realistic elements throughout every scene, action and dialogue requires a multidimensional approach. No matter the angle and detail you’re focusing on, the necessary question to ask and subsequently answer is: Why?
In the quest of “Why?” the primary objective shouldn’t be to simply answer, but reveal character behavior, choices and actions. These three letters open the doorway to deeper knowledge about the character.
Why Ask Why?
Simply asking “why” may seem juvenile to some, but it’s when a writer digs into his imagination and creativity that the answer is found. Answering this question may lead to story/character details that otherwise wouldn’t arise. Utilize this method to write beyond the initial story idea. For example:
Q: Why is the character working as a casino maintenance/technician in Biloxi, Mississippi? Why is his personality withdrawn and non-approachable?
A: He moved after his mother killed herself. His personality changed when his mother died because he feels guilty for his last conversation with her.
Q: Why did that cause him to move? What was the conversation?
A: His mother had abused alcohol and men his whole life. He lived with his Aunt for a while then moved back in with his mother at 14. She was supposed to be sober, but she never truly was. His parents divorced when he was young so he’s always felt a strange responsibility for his mother. The argument he can’t forget about was about his juicer, which he lent to his mother for her health. She got drunk one night and tried juicing an inappropriate item, which broke the appliance. This triggered the character, and he yelled at her over the phone. A couple of days later the mother killed herself. The character moved because he couldn’t help but feel responsible for his mother’s actions, so instead of facing them, he ran away to the shores of Biloxi.
By simply asking “why,” the story and its characters instantly reveal their background, one question at a time. These revelations typically stir other ideas, possibilities and story changes.
While there isn’t one particular rule in this creative process, always engage in this research with one primary guideline – exhaust your imagination. The limits of each character and the depth of the story are only established by your own mind and willingness to explore.