Yesterday, I wrote about how I hate how tone has overtaken the way that movies work. But more than that, I think it has overtaken the way some books are also written. After all, it’s an easy way to seem like everything in your plot is coherent and flows perfectly. It can very easily become camo for mediocre writing, like the kind found more often than I’d like on this blog. You may even be, like me, unable to really tell when your writing is taking on this tonal oppression without it being pointed out. Like most everything, the best and easiest way to fix the problem is to take preventative measures for it ever happening. The best place to start, I’ve found, has been with character sketches.
Take my screenplay, for example. I have a fairly unremarkable protagonist placed into a horrifying situation. There are more interesting characters in the film. In fact, I’d say that most of them tend to be a bit more invested in life than her. I sat at my computer for a good long time looking at the single pathetic sentence I’d written out to summarize her. I knew it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t nearly enough, but I didn’t know where to start. So I began exploring more deeply some of what I had already written. I began exploring her life. Is she smart? Is she motivated? Is she self-aware? Does she want? What does she want? What has she accomplished? The more I asked the more I needed to know. At the moment, the character sketch is about three fourths of a page long. It could easily be much longer. I could easily write another three pages about just her, but that would ruin the point of a character sketch for me.
The reason I do character sketches is because it helps me become a more independent writer in the early stages of writing and editing. Having a more flushed out background written down allows me to check her tone, her emotions, her responses to every little thing against her background. Senses of wonder and terror intermingling in her actions, backed by her background. Then, when I do get into a phase where I’m asking people if this sounds right, if they question her actions and motivations I can check to see if their criticism has merit or correct a moment earlier that lead them to an improper conclusion on the character I’m trying to portray. Going through this, I’ll find the correct course of action to take to reach the story I want to tell.