Episode 2 “Character Development”

"Character Development”

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – Episode two of the Writing for Actors blog by Scott Edward Smith focuses on “Character Development.”

Dive into character development with Scott Edward Smith. Scott answers the age-old question “Which comes first, character or story?”, and shares his process of finding “the hook” in his one-person audio dramas, Intimate Fame

Some writers find themselves dealing with the “chicken and egg” problem of do you develop your characters first and then build the story around the characters, or do you frame the story and then build your characters within the story? Hmmmm…

In my experience, I’ve found that either can come first, or they can happen together. But what I think is really important in the development of both is having “the hook.” That’s where, at least for me, the wandering time happens. I can know the scenes. I can know the dialogue, but I can’t write them because I don’t have “the hook.”  

“The Hook”

Think of the word “hook” as inspiration: why are you doing this? Why are you taking so much time, energy, and brain power, consuming yourself over a character or a story if you’re not inspired by it or you don’t have the hook. The hook can be actual physical things, or emotional images. For example, in Intimate Fame with Wallis Simpson in THAT WOMAN!  The “hook” was deeply tied into Princess Diana being in Paris to buy Wallis’s villa on the day she was killed, which just gave me everything I needed to know about writing Wallis. The hook is your anchor. 

And a lot of times that hook can be your last scene. It can be that you can have a great ending and you have no idea how you’re going to get there, but you do know the shoe that’s going to drop and surprise everyone at the end. And that can be your inspiration to develop characters into a fantastic story.

The Three Big Whats

Once you find your hook, the most important thing to start with is the three big “what’s.” Those are “What they do,” which is action, “What they say,” which is dialogue, and “What they were,” which is backstory. That’s how you deal with the chicken and egg because I wouldn’t say one comes before the other– one inspires the other. Here’s a great example: in Intimate Fame, the one-person plays we’ve made into audio dramas, they’re all fascinating characters. And why wouldn’t you want to be in a room with them or hear what they say? That’s the dialogue. 

Let’s look at the three “whats” for Marilyn Monroe in The Last Sitting: The “what they do,” which is “action.” Marilyn comes to a private bungalow that has basically been turned into a photo studio. All the furniture has been removed and thrown into the other rooms. She arrives five hours late. Part of her requirements for the shoot was to have five cases of her favorite champagne (and Bert brought a lot of uppers) so that adds to a lot of action. So that’s what it’s like. She’s going to be photographed. She’s never met this guy, but she knows right from the beginning he’s after her. She knows the moment she walks in and she tells him, and this is an actual quote, she comes up to him and says, “You keep that camera around your neck and you won’t get into any trouble.”  There’s dialogue. And then the backstory is literally the monologue that Marilyn tells of her life. It’s not only the basic stuff. It’s what happened on the set of The Misfits or Some Like It Hot – the movies where you don’t really know the dish that was going on. That’s the backstory. It’s the fun stuff which you don’t get to hear about. 

These are the ways I develop character and story. I talk a lot more about each part of the process in the video, but if you have specific questions please reach out to me! There’s no one way of writing, and every writer has to allow their process to grow.

Scott’s career began with production work on Broadway, National Tours, and Las Vegas. A former Story Editor for Dino DeLaurentis, Scott began his writing career with the 1987 television series, ‘21 Jumpstreet.’ His adapted play, ‘Buddies,’ premiered in Los Angeles. His one-woman play, "That Woman!" had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Scott created and produced the talk radio show Dr. G: Engaging Minds for KABC, and the spinoff TV version on BEOND.TV. He is Co-Author of the book, "Reel People: Finding Ourselves in the Movies". http://Scottedwardsmith.com