Much like real life humans, characters are not one-dimensional. They manifest various personalities and depending on their personality matrix alter multiple traits based on their environment. Of course, it’s easy to apply stereotypical choices upon characters as certain scenarios have popular effects on people; however, a genuine screenwriter pauses at the beginning of every scene and ponders how the character in question should react based upon external influences.
The start of each scene is an opportunity to reconstruct dominant emotional and personality traits. Challenge conceptions and constructs developed around the character by eyeing each word with scrutiny.
Understanding the Character
A writer will never truly answer the question of environmental influences on a character if the character is never real to him. To clarify, the term “real” refers to compassion and empathy. The only way a writer can reach this level is through pre-research. Prior to writing the first draft, a writer must create the character and their history. It’s obvious to at least somewhat-seasoned screenwriters the bulk of the characters’ history may not be revealed until the middle or the end of the first draft. Nonetheless, no character (main or supporting) should enter the pages of a script until a minimum of basic-level detailing is accomplished.
Absorbing their past allows their writer to orchestrate emotional and physical choices to support their baseline self as well as provide springboards for surprise jumps and changes.
Really? Is That True?
My favorite question to place on the table after finishing a scene, “Really? Is that the truth?” While it may seem like self-doubt has taken the reigns, asking this question prevented many character mistakes or shortcomings from making it into future drafts.
Once a scene is written, review the scene as a whole. Dissect each element starting from character interactions, then begin the inquisition to verify choices.
Analyze, Pause and Analyze Again
The affect a physical or social environment has on a character involves several processes. The first of these is reviewing the relationship dynamics between included persons. Who the character is surrounded by plays a significant role in attitude, comfort, confidence, objective and portrayal.
Secondly, where is the character physically located? The space a character wades in plays a conscious and a subconscious role in their development. Reactions and emotional energies can dramatically alter simply because of where the character is located.
Wish to spice up a character or add an unknown dynamic to the story? Create a backstory involving a setting in a relevant scene. Now, fabricate an experience the character had in this exact location or in a similar area. Whether the association is positive, negative or even neutral the element of familiarity and experience accumulates with existing traits to energize a scene.*
Lastly, review choices for banal and commonplace storytelling. For example, a gang of bank robbers approaches the characters’ teller window. Instead of reacting in a standard way (either positive or negative) what is a choice the audience wouldn’t expect? Perhaps the character approaches a robber and tries to level with him. This choice, while not the most original, does not fall into constructs many writers build around their characters and around certain scenarios.
Always be on the lookout for ways to surprise readers/viewers, as well as yourself.