How to write a character – Part Two

So, before we put the story in, let’s look at what we have.   We’ll write a little “introduction” of the characters later, when we know them a little better.


Nancy takes the glass of Prosecco that Paula just poured.


This Prosecco tastes like shit.

She downs it one gulp and pours herself another, while Paula takes a Heinekin from the fridge for herself.


My husband won’t spend more than 12 dollars on a bottle of wine.

This is where I start to have a problem with “motivation”.  Nancy probably has a reason for coming over to Paula’s house, but Paula is just being polite.  To say she has a motivation in this scene doesn’t make sense.  You could make it up – and that’s what we’re doing here, making things up – but we don’t want it feel like it’s been made up.  We don’t want to force things too much, because that will make it seem false.  So don’t worry about “motivation” right now.

The other thing with “motivation” is that films aren’t always conducive to the script like that.  Films cheat.  Sometimes a character’s motivation comes from the fact that, I don’t know, time is running out and you need to get the shot.  What was Indy’s “motivation” when he took out his gun and shot the guy, instead of using his whip?  Well, Harrison Ford was sick that day and they were behind schedule, and that solved both problems.  Was that his motivation?  Was it that they got a laugh?  I mean, if you really look at it, his motivation changed from subduing the guy with his whip, as it was in the script, to killing a man in cold blood because he was too lazy to get his whip out.  But it worked.

OK, back to our girls.

Part of the fun of writing is that, generally, you are taking characters outside of their comfort zone, out of their routine. Physicists use three dimensional models to explain their ten dimensional worlds, so let’s keep it Hollywood here, because Hollywood writes in the most simplistic terms, it’s an easy way to explain things.

These women are suburban dwellers, and they are a little past their prime, so lets put them into a world where they need to use their hidden talents in ways that they’ve never had to before.  I’m talking, clearly, about the high-class world of business espionage.  This is going to get our girls into all sorts of tight clothes and force them to use their rudimentary French and “elevated” tastes to save their lives.

All I know now is all I’ve told you.  We have these two women and they are headed, vaguely, to some scene where they are in ballroom dresses, drinking champagne and seducing foreign executives.  Sounds fun, right?  We’re making this up as we go along, which means that, in a final script, most of this won’t even be there.  Don’t think about that or you’ll never get started.


When was the last time you got laid?


No comment.  What about you?


Jack went down on me last night.  I was trying to erase it from my memory.  Don’t ask.


I need a favor.  The alimony check from my asshole ex-husband bounced and I need to borrow ten thousand dollars.  Can you help me out?


Wow.  It’s times like these when you find out who your friends are.  Or aren’t.


You’re not going to help me?


I can lend you twenty.  Dollars.


Think of it as an investment.  I’ll pay you back double next week.


I don’t have it.  Don’t you have a credit card?


Maxed out.  I’m maxed out in every direction.  Charlie met some woman and he’s been stalling on the checks.  He knows I’m screwed.  I can’t even afford a lawyer.  The kids are going to kicked out of boarding school next month if I don’t cough up tuition.  I’m at the end of my rope.


Sounds like you really have “problems”.


I didn’t really expect the world from you, but I did think you would at least sympathize with my situation.


To be honest, Nancy, there’s a recession on.  People are suffering.


I know you always liked Charlie, but there were good reasons that we got divorced.


It was terrible what you put your kids through.


You really don’t know what you’re talking about.  You know what?  I’ll just borrow that twenty and I’ll be out of your way.



Paula looks in her wallet and sees that she doesn’t have it.


You don’t even have twenty?


Hold on.  I have it upstairs.

Paula goes upstairs.  She comes back a minute later holding a crisp twenty.

But she finds Nancy is gone.  She sees her purse on the table and looks in it.  Her credit card is gone.


She runs outside to see Nancy screeching away in her Mercedes.  She looks after her, puzzled.

Then she goes inside, grabs her keys, cell phone and purse.  She gets in her car and follows her.

OK, so that’s a rough scene.  It gives us something to work with.  You might ask, why doesn’t she cancel the credit card?  We’ll deal with stuff like that later.  Nancy could be either a crazy bitch or in a desperate bind.  There’s some back story here that would probably be better moving further back.  We’re still figuring things out here.  It’s got a little direction.  I’m starting to see a few scenes ahead now.  Obviously, if you were outlining this, you would already have a good idea of where you going, but I’m concentrating on character for this.

In part 3, we’ll look at the emotional life of these two women and how that fuels everything – the writing, the story, the characters, the audience – everything.


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