Monday, April 12, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 119 - Writing a Character Backstory Helped Me with My Re-Writes

My goal for this weekend was to hit page 60 of my script. Granted, I’m primarily re-writing from page 40 on, so the task didn’t seem that challenging (I started writing around this time last week). However, when I sat down to write Tuesday and essentially got nowhere, I realized that I couldn’t just plow on ahead like I normally do. I was being held back by something, something very important; I had changed the nature of my protagonist fairly dramatically, setting up a very dark past for him, and I was having trouble advancing before fully fleshing that out and reconciling it with the existing pages.

To see that typed now, the problem seems obvious. Of course I couldn’t write 50 new pages with a drastically different protagonist before addressing Act One and the first part of Act Two. What’s the saying? “If you’re having Act Two and Act Three problems, the solution probably lies in Act One.” Sometimes, you just have to re-learn the old lessons through trial and error.

I thought I could achieve what I needed to before doing too much digging into my protagonist’s past. A tweak here and there to Act One – his past catches up to him in Act Two, but remains largely hidden until then – and I would be good to go. But something was still nagging at me, something telling me that what I had was… incomplete. In fact, the first scene that I sat down to write involved a flashback to one of the darkest memories from my protagonist’s past. There was no way I was going to b.s. my way through it, so I did the only thing that I knew would help me move forward – I wrote a character backstory.

Normally, I don’t tend to put too much about my characters down on paper. I did it in the outlining stage of another project I was working on, and I did a tiny bit in a general outline for this one, but I avoided specifics. I thought that the “gist” would suffice. Obviously, it didn’t, because when I was staring at that FLASHBACK transition, I had no idea what to write next. I set aside the script for a night, opened Word, and pumped out a page and a half about my protagonist’s previous life, detailing who he was and what he tries to hide from his life ten years ago. And once that was done, I felt like I’d made the breakthrough I needed. It was the most elegant piece of writing, and it probably won’t all make it into the script, but it was essential to my work. And, now that I’ve done it, I can move forward with him further into the script.

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