Monday, April 27, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 69 - Too Many Characters

I like to write action movies. Action means big explosions. Big shootouts. Big chases. Big ensembles. In order for the bodies to stack up, I have to litter the script with C-characters, people who can get offed in the most awesome ways, while the protagonists run onward to victory. The trick, though, is making these people recognizable to the audience, while not cluttering the script with too many speaking role bit characters.

I’ve been reworking my Roman army spec recently. The first draft had a lot of speaking roles. To give you an idea of how many characters – the script opens with two opposing armies at war which, over the course of the script, come together to battle an even greater force. Yes, many, MANY characters. ‘Backer took the lead in letting me know that too many of the characters sound the same and do not distinguish themselves from one another. I just realized how this came to be.

In dealing with ensembles, I feel compelled to make sure that most if not everyone who I drop onto the page has some sort of a speaking role. Onyx and I are both guilty of this. We put a lot of people into our scripts – more people than we need – and we try to distinguish them all. What this leads to is too many characters speaking, too many descriptions of people we aren’t supposed to remember, and too many deaths of characters we haven’t begun to care about. There’s a prime example of “too many characters speaking” in the first draft of my Roman army project; during one scene, two characters are having a debate. However, each of them also has two cronies who are always at their side. In order to justify the cronies’ presence, I gave everyone lines. What was a discussion between two people became a discussion between two people but through six people. Everyone sounded the same, because I had just swapped names in throughout the dialogue. ‘Backer was right – no character (except the main two) had a unique voice.

It’s hard juggling multiple characters, especially when many of them speak. The key, though, is balance. Who needs to be there, and who doesn’t? Who has to speak, and who doesn’t? Who is just there to die onscreen, and who has a greater, story serving purpose? Onyx and I are on the lookout for one another, letting one another know when the character count is getting too high. He suggested that I’ll probably have to cut a number of characters, and he’s probably right. At the very least, I’ll have to cut their dialogue.

1 comment:

Onyx said...

Before doing juggling or major changes your first step should always be to try and identify what's making the script weaker. You might have a lot of characters, but is it a matter of cutting their dialogue, or is it a matter of making the dialogue and characters more unique? Some stories are going to require more characters. You can't have a Braveheart and only know a couple people on both sides of the conflict. You can't do a sports movie and only know two members of the team. Make sure you don't need your characters before you cut them entirely. Also, look for minor characters who you might be able to fuse into one character.