We talked about Character Biographies previously here at Script Gods. Today I wanted to give an an example of how to write them using an INSIDE-OUT approach. Remember: People are not who they appear to be. Who the characters appears to be to the world–their 24/7 world, the people in their lives, their economic, sociological situations. And then there’s the more interesting part, what the world doesn’t see, which is the character on a deeper level–what they love, what they dream and hope for, what they desperately need. What appears to be reality vs. the actual reality. This sets up inevitable conflict between characters. Figure out, for instance, the exact thing the protagonist loves–and take it from him. What happens then?
When you’re at the Idea Development stage of screenwriting you’re a loooong way from the first draft, let alone a rewritten (probably multiple drafts) screenplay that’s ready to be sent out. There’s a movie in your mind and you’ve got to get it on paper. Thus, were created growth industries revolving around the outlining of screenplays. Thus followed books and gurus, the Syd Fields and Blake Synders of the world, systems upon systems, 18 different ways to talk about the Second Act Low Point, the compost heap upon which, I suppose, I am adding to today.
You’ve got the idea in your mind. Now write your character bios, 1-2 pages each, inside-out approach. Identify every character in the movie, the connection between each. Identify the A to Z character arc of each. Write out scenes you can see for each, individually. Don’t try to do too much too fast. Be methodical. Write the scenes you’re seeing first, irregardless of order. Eventually you’ll have something like a 3D map for each character.
For my movie CHAT, I started with these character biographies below. I hope they’re helpful.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen my movie yet, reading the bios below will give some of the story away. Read at your own risk!
- MARY ROSE:
She’s, 21, Falcon’s little girl who wanders into a den of inequity, a strange, sexualized world where no one actually has sex. She disappears after only a week and Falcon is searching for her. Not much is known about her—she stayed the week and moved on, sez Syd the owner. WHAT APPEARS TO BE REALITY: Had a tough relationship with her father, with his eye disease and headaches, she would raid his stash of pills often. When mom died suddenly, the bottom fell out. Dad went to pieces, Annie raided the pill stash, skittles parties, disconnected from dad, maybe even arrested. She split the house and, needing some fast cash, came to work in xxx-chat. Annie is a mentor, helping protect her from the bad guys (Syd, Geoffrey, customers). We see her new to the game, dealing with cybersex losers, and zero connection. This is a gig; the cam interaction is painful and painfully funny. People have no connection. The computer screen acts as a filter, a layer of protection. There’s no need for contact or even fucking any longer. WHAT IS REALITY: she’s actually ok working this job, doesn’t need rescuing, despite having this weird guy–internet name Falcon–stalk her. When she cuts him off she’s surprised–and more than a little freaked–when he shows up at her work calling himself her father, totally delusional. The old guy is tossed out and she laughs it off. Like the Rolling Stones said…she’s got a mind of her own, and she uses it well.
Late 40’s, early 50’s: somewhere between the Twilight Zone and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, you’ll find Falcon—aka Steven Kemp. WHAT APPEARS TO BE REALITY: The scientist has bad dreams. Wrecked physically with a degenerative eye disease, he looks freaky in his special sunglasses, living in a light-controlled environment. His daughter has come up missing inside an alien world he does not understand and he needs to get her back. Stranger in a strange land, ill-equipped to put the pieces together, he’s definitely over his head. The xxx chat world is cruel and the clues are jagged. Obsessed, flawed, and sympathetic dad, he’s looking for his missing daughter and finds suspects: Syd, Csonka, Geoffrey. Helped by Annie, his daughter’s friend, Kemp ventures into this world. The visuals are through web cams, computer screens, special lenses for i-phones and split-screen looks. It’s a tech world, a lonely place, and voyeuristic. It’s also seen through Falcon’s eyes during his “seizures”, which look like aura phase flashes, compulsive POV of a man with bad dreams. Falcon (apparently) arrives after the awful event but he’s (actually) the one responsible for the deaths. WHAT IS REALITY: His daughter isn’t his daughter, and she isn’t all that innocent, doesn’t want to be rescued, making good money and ok with the gig, her rejecting him pretty much pushes him over the edge. On the night of death when the bathroom rendezvous goes wrong, it’s Falcon’s face in the mirror. This, the dreamscape of his own making, his headaches and bad dreams will soon to be at an end.
Syd is a toad, 40’s, face like swiss cheese. WHAT APPEARS TO BE REALITY: Has had it with his prettified yuppie partner, Geoffrey. He wants him gone. Syd has an enforcer, the ex-cop Csonka, who can make that happen. Syd wants to change his life, which starts by changing his swiss cheese face. He seeks out the liposuction goddess, Dr. Lauren. The total immersion Syd seeks will cost money. Not a problem, sez Syd. Change is coming at his business. A nasty plan emerges. Csonka and Syd will blackmail Geoffrey, set him up, get him jailed or to sign the biz away or both. Csonka knows this is more than Syd looking for a new face. Syd can’t handle that Annie, supposedly his chick, also doubles as his handsome Wall Street faggot Geoffrey’s bdsm bitch goddess. It’s disgusting, even worse than fucking the guy. It’s got to end. Thus, the plan is put into effect. WHAT IS REALITY: Syd is a guy with a secret. Out of the woodwork comes this guy Falcon, sez he’s a cam girl’s dad, and want to find her. And not just any girl. The girl he accidentally shot the week before. It’s a bad scene and Syd pressures Geoffrey to keep the lid on this, or both will go down. Stirring up trouble is Annie, who aligns herself with the old guy. Things get out of hand and something might have to be done to get a handle on the old guy… In reality: Syd’s an internet business man just trying to rake in his cash. Out of the wood work comes this geezer claiming to be a cam girl’s father. He discovers Falcon isn’t her dad and gives him the boot. Falcon returns that night and ends Syd’s business—and life?—in a scene right out of taxi driver.
Late 20’s, early 30’s: no man’s fool. Tough chick, works the sleaze but keeps it apart from the personal, can compartmentalize it. WHAT APPEARS TO BE REALITY: Mary rose’s friend, when Falcon approaches she remembers what she said about his eye disease, makes a date to meet him. Seeing he’s real, she makes Falcon’s problem hers. She’s disturbed that Mary Rose just vanished and isn’t buying it. Events lead to more suspicion as she investigates deeper. For a while she’s been seeing both her bosses in different capacities. She does to look out for #1 as ever, playing both ends against the middle. She can be Syd’s fuck toy and Geoffrey’s mistress sierra, they can take her home but she’ll never be their girl. This leads to big problems around the ol’ xxx-worksite. Trying to find answers she’s caught in Syd’s office, roughed up and fired. Even this doesn’t stop her, making a date to get answers from Geoffrey, when Falcon arrives on his terrible mission… WHAT IS REALITY: works the sleaze but stays above it. Ala Klute, she is capable of making up elaborate lies about herself, but that’s just for the customers. Yeah, maybe there’s some late night inner turmoil when she’s alone, but the outward appearance is total control. She’s Geoffrey’s bitch goddess for their little BDSM tete-a-tetes, also a mentor to Mary Rose. They connect well and more than hold their own against the forces of men who would love to control them. When she won’t submit to Syd sexually, and lets Mary Rose sub for her with Geoffrey, which leads to tragedy.