Show Character Through Action

You want to avoid any material that only exists to establish, to set up, to explain, and to transition into another scene. Avoid the static “Talking Heads” scenes and the characters telling us directly about themselves.

Most of all… SHOW CHARACTER THROUGH ACTION!We learn much more about Melvin Udall in the opening scene of As Good As It Gets (full story map) when he stuffs his neighbor’s dog down a trash chute than if we opened on him delivering a 2 page monologue telling us his life story. This action SHOWS us his character immediately: an abrasive, angry, isolationist curmudgeon. Pretty clear, huh? And remember — the only thing he tells us about his past is the line “My father didn’t come out of his room for four years.” But Melvin is a great, complex film character — because the writers have made sure that he SHOWS his character traits so well. A couple more examples…

Butch (Bruce Willis) in Pulp Fiction chooses the samurai sword as his weapon, even when surrounded by hundreds of weapons in the pawn shop.

Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) in Million Dollar Baby, a waitress, wraps a customer’s left-over pork chop in tinfoil, lies to her manager that she’s bringing it home for her dog, then eats it for dinner.

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone doesn’t come out of the bathroom of the Italian restaurant with the gun blasting like his brother Sonny told him to do: he sits down and sips his cappucino and lets us sweat before finally pulling the pistol and shooting his target. Although he’s nervous as hell before he pulls the gun, this SHOWS us the hidden strength he possesses and advances him on his journey to becoming Don of the crime family.

Just a few examples from great films for you to keep in mind as you create your own compelling characters.

Good Luck and Happy Writing,


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