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?
A: I suggest you ask some key questions about each character:
- What does he want? (What’s his visible goal?)
- WHY does he want that? (What’s his inner motivation – what drives him?)
- What is this character hiding from others? (What is he ashamed of, or afraid to admit, or purposely deceiving people about?)
- 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:
- 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.
May I simply just say what a comfort to uncover somebody who really understands
what they’re discussing on the web. You certainly
know how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
More people should check this out and understand this side of the story.
I was surprised that you are not more popular since you certainly have the gift.
Thanks so much for answering my question, Michael!! 🙂
Thank you very much for this… Karma is a fine mistress sometimes: Number 5 in the list here has come just at the right time to really help me out with both a protagonist and a main supporting character I’m working on at present… Wonderful advice!
On a slightly different note: I’ve found that the whole emotional content that actors provide (usually through improvisation) is far in excess of the lines that I write for them. I realize that this is a good indicator regarding the calibre of the actors that I’m lucky to work with, but do you have any advice on how to ‘pep up’ the emotional potential of my dialogue.
Brilliant! Thank you.
Thank you for answering this question, and most of all thank you for posting your reply. This is an amazing, insightful answer. While I read through the questions, I thought of my opponent. And WOW, what an eye-opener. A broken opponent with emotional issues became crystal clear.
Thank you, GG for asking, and my gratitude for Michael’s work.
Fantastic question! I struggle with this too of my characters.
Do you have any advice on outlining novels? I want to outline enough so that I’m not lost but at the same time I don’t want to get stuck in the scene planning process which I tend to do