Bullshit… you don’t know me well enough yet…

31 Mar

Last night I had a writing session with the incredibly talented Joel Sappington; together we’re developing a very unique, high concept television show. We have an overall concept, but at present we’re spending a lot of time on the front end; digging down deep, really getting to know our characters; this before we even develop a storyline, before we write a single word on the page.

If you don’t really know your characters first, then you are in big trouble, you’re in the poo because you are manipulating them to fit your plot lines; you have taken “choice” out of their hands and they have become puppets. Characters much like people are way more endearing when they are free to make their own choices… a free character is surprising, entertaining, dramatic and unpredictable.

The process of knowing your character is a never-ending love affair, as with people, there is always more to know, more to learn, more to uncover, more to love. You have to spend a lot of time with a character to really get to know him or her on an intrinsically personal level, you have to be vulnerable with them, you have to share yourself and the whole spectrum of your life’s experiences; you have to ask them difficult questions…

There are so many layers, so many secrets and dreams hidden in the dark private places of every soul, don’t get bored, don’t make assumptions, take your character out for coffee and spend a little time on the getting to know process.

Below are questions you can ask to get to know your characters better…

Since we are trying to create human truth and human resonance then the more we know about our characters the more “real” they will become. These questions are designed to help your characters come alive in your imagination.

Answer them really quickly. Don’t try to be right, you can never be because it’s all imagination anyway. Don’t worry if your answers seem to contradict themselves. People contradict themselves all the time… your character is a person.

You don’t have to answer all the questions… they are designed to fire your imagination and to help you find your characters voice.


Imagine them giving you their passport.



1. Age?
2. Occupation?
3. Nationality?
4. Exactly where were they born? Manger. Hospital. Aeroplane City?
5. Parents?
6. Parents Occupation?
7. Place in family/Siblings?


Try and paint a picture of their early years. Character is often formed in these times.

• What was their childhood like?
• Was their house messy?
• Did their parents fight?
• Were they disciplined physically? How?
• Did they have an animal that they loved?
• When did they go to their first funeral?
• Could their mother cook?
• What did the house smell like?
• Did they have their own room?
• Was their home religious?
• Did they say grace before meals?
• What time did their father get home?
• Did they play any sport?
• Where did they go to school?
• Were they bullied or did they bully?
• Who was their first girlfriend?
• Who was their first fight?
• Who was their first kiss?
• Did they have lots of friends?
• What happened at their birthday parties?
• What age were they when they first left home?

Current Situation:

How do we find them when we first meet them?

• What is their current job if they have one?
• Are they in good health?
• Which part of their body do they feel pain?
• How much money do they have in their wallet?
• How much money do they have in their account?
• What language do they speak?
• What sort of an accent do they talk with?
• Where did they last travel too?
• When did they last have a holiday?
• When did they last make love?
• What is their favorite restaurant?
• What is their favorite fast food?
• Are they in married? In a relationship? Straight or Gay?
• Do they have any children?
• Are all their children alive?
• Do they have any addictions or mental health issues?

Their Role in your Story:

A film story is really a collection of stories (characters). Although each character (person) is a story in themselves you must decide what sort of role each character is going to play in the story you have decided to tell.

Acknowledging that each character is a person and a story in themselves will help you avoiding creating “stereotypes” with little human resonance.

• Are they a Major character, Minor character or an Extra?
• If a Major character are they Antagonist or Protagonist?
• If a Minor character do they muddle, bring a message or mediate?
• Do they fill more than one of these roles?
• Do they switch during the story?

Basic Personality:

I find these questions particularly useful to help me get a feel for my characters. Don’t be afraid to contradict and make them muddy.

Would they or wouldn't they...

• Are they introverted or extroverted?
• Are they sensational or intuitive?
• Are they perceptive or judgmental?
• Are they a thinker or a feeler?
• What is their major goal in life?
• What is their core characteristic?
• What is their biggest contradiction?
• Do they have the mentality of a father, son, daughter or mother?
• Are they a savior, a victim or a persecutor?
• Are they uneducated or educated?
• Are they worldly or naive?
• Are they optimist or pessimistic by nature?
• Do they mock others?
• Do they like to tell dirty jokes?
• What do they do when they break wind?

Physical Stuff:

• How do they dress?
• Do they take pride in their appearance?
• Are they vain?
• Are they dirty?
• Do they have facial hair?
• What is their physical build? Slight? Muscular? Fat?
• What is their favorite food?
• What food do they hate?
• What is their favorite drink?
• Do they drink alcohol?

Private world:

We are often unfortunately defined by these things… there is also a lot of comedy found in these things

What dreams may come...

• What is their worst fear?
• What do they do when they are alone?
• What is their greatest love?
• Who do they want to talk too when they are only?
• What subject do they want to avoid?
• What are their most hated activities?
• What activities do they love?
• What is their wildest fantasy?
• What is their biggest regret?
• What is their favorite memory?
• What is their greatest ambition?
• Who is their best friend? Doesn’t have to be human…

How do they feel about…

Answer these quickly. How do they feel about?

• Self
• Others
• Friendship
• Sex
• Love
• Family
• Marriage
• Racism
• Country
• The world
• Religion


If you really want to know your characters try these…

• What do they find funny?
• What groups do they belong too?
• What political party do they support?
• What would it take for them to do something out of character?
• Who do they admire most?
• What role would they play in a Mardi Gras?
• What do they want written on their tombstone?
• What Photograph do they carry on their person?

What if’s?

What would your character do/say about the following…

Fancy a trip...

• Inherited One Million dollars.
• The death of a loved one.
• Had two weeks on a Greek Island.
• A natural disaster.
• Were fired from their job.
• Met an old friend/enemy.
• Went on a blind date.
• Children.
• Being raped.
• An unexpected kindness or compliment.
• A serious illness.
• A flat tire on the expressway.
• An unexpected day off.
• An interracial relationship.
• Given five minutes on TV.


One Response to “Bullshit… you don’t know me well enough yet…”

  1. John Plumridge April 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Much like character development I did in a Dramatic Arts Diploma. I like the ‘What would it take for them to do something out of character?” Question.
    To things along in a different vein, It would come upon me, where I would face a moment alone in my room as them with a restless feeling, and then if I could face it, go for a walk in the night … as THEMSELF.

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