Q & A: Inner Life of Characters

Q: I found your book on screenplays on my shelf and am refreshing myself with your guidelines on punching up dialogue. Good stuff!!

Do you have any advice for people who are good at ideas, plots and dialogue bits but not so good at getting into the heads of their characters?

– GG

A: I suggest you ask some key questions about each character:

  1. What does he want? (What’s his visible goal?)
  2. WHY does he want that? (What’s his inner motivation – what drives him?)
  3. What is this character hiding from others? (What is he ashamed of, or afraid to admit, or purposely deceiving people about?)
  4. What is he hiding from himself? (What would he realize about himself if he had the courage to let go of his persona, his protective identity?)

And the most important question of all, which is the direct path to giving a character depth, impact and a transformative arc:

  1. What terrifies your character emotionally? (What wounds has he suffered, and what beliefs is he clinging to, in order to make himself feel safe? How are these preventing him from getting what he wants in Question #1? Or how are these fears leading him to a false, unfulfilling desire in Question #2, rather than toward his true destiny?)

I hope those questions help. Let us know how they work for you.

– Michael