7. Action Speaks Louder Than Words
Character uniqueness goes beyond dialogue.
We learn so much more about our characters by their actions and reactions—how they handle certain situations.
One character might retreat in fear. Another might sob. One may lash out at the drop of a dime. Another might use intellect to handle a situation.
Dialogue will only get you so far. Actions and reactions are what really gives each character a distinctive voice. Imagine if characters like Indiana Jones and James Bond relied on dialogue to define their characters—it just wouldn’t be the same.
Watch Quentin Tarantino discuss the opening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.
The first 20-some minutes of There Will Be Blood are near silent. All that we see are different parts of this man’s life. There is little to no dialogue. But his actions and reactions are what give this character a distinctive voice. When he falls into the shaft, breaking his leg, he could just as easily have died shortly after. We saw the elements he was facing and we saw how remote that location was.
His character type and character traits are identified as he crawls out of the shaft and later lays on the floor as he watches his gold being weighed and as he receives his payment. And this later continues on as he tackles the oil business.
We know who and what this character is well before he speaks any words.
I mentioned before that creating distinctive characters is easier said than done. But when you apply those first four effective ways to determine both when you are failing and succeeding, you can then use the final three to build each and every character—big or small—and give them the depth they need to be easily distinguishable from all others. That’s when you have characters that leap from the page. That’s when they almost write themselves. MM
This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.