Writing From Your Gut

Good evening! I’m still here!

The Traveling Screenwriting has been a little on the nutso side these last few months. I’ve been traveling, I’ve been writing, and I’ve been blogging a TON – just over here at The Chocolate Tourist.

Character wisdom from comedy writer Dan Harmon on characters

Dan Harmon, courtesy of Channel 101 Wiki

My screenplay has gone through many permutations (as screenplays do) in the last few months, and who the heck knows when it will be finished. Meanwhile I’ve had a bunch of other ideas.

Isn’t that the way it goes? You’re down deep in the snaggly weeds of a fourth rewrite of the script you’re committed to, and then a saucy new idea flounces by your imagination.

It’s tough not to get distracted.

In any case, I want to share this unique and insightful take on character development from Big TV Writer honcho Dan Harmon. He co-created Adult Swim and is currently working on Community.

And he’s pretty smart about telling stories.

On his blog, Dan Harmon Poops, he answers a question about writing characters. First, get your phone. Then scroll through your contacts until one of the names creates a visceral, gut reaction in you.

Ask yourself why that person’s name caused that reaction in you. Don’t try to make it an accurate answer, make it your honest, personal answer. Make it a thousand overlapping micro-answers. Don’t find categorical terminology for any of it, just dump the marbles of emotional memory all over the floor, flood the room with them. You were infatuated with Rebecca because she wore Chuck Taylors and played bass and tasted like cigarettes.

Now play with the marbles. Experiment with eliminating them, cross referencing them…didn’t Tracy also taste like cigarettes, and didn’t you hate that about her? What if Rebecca had tasted like Scope, would you have been less in love with her…?

This is a fascinating exercise. Without even consulting my phone, I can think of the names to which I react strongly. Dread, excitement, fascination, embarrassment. Now imagine pouring all those feelings into the characters on the page.

I’ve recently become aware how snobby I tend to be with regard to characters. They’re either good or bad. I’m either rooting for them or rooting against them. But the best characters – even my favorite characters – are not that simple. They’re complex, human-y concoctions of the soul as much as the imagination.

They do great things and terrible things. Motivated by all kinds of reasons.

We don’t have to figure them out.

We just put them in the middle of a story and watch what they do.

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