Finding Characters: On the Emerald Island

By Tony LaScala · March 26, 2012

Hullo Odd-Jobbers,

(That’s how they say it in Ireland)

March was pretty hectic. I got married and have just returned from a two-week trip to Ireland. Oh how my keyboard has missed me! It’s keys feel somewhat strange as I type, so cold and distant. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Being away from the screenwriting game for a month is unnerving. I had to remind myself every day that there are more important things in life… like… marriage and stuff. Fortunately, my screenwriting energy has been renewed.

I’ve finished a skeleton outline and character breakdown for my new screenplay. In theory, I should practice what I preach and start writing immediately. There’s a snag: I got away from the story for a while and the energy is not fresh anymore. I’m one of those writers who believe you should write on momentum. If I’m not excited about a screenplay how can I excite an audience? The second snag: while on my Honeymoon my previous screenplay won a screenwriting competition and some industry folks are requesting it.

Now, although I’ve won the competition, the screenplay is not exactly as polished as I or anyone else would like. The competition judges pointed out that while I got very high marks in a lot of areas (originality, marketability, dialogue, etc.) the characters weren’t fully developed and my story suffered because of it. (Story is more important than any of that other stuff so… translation: flawed screenplay). Fortunately, before I left for Ireland I sat down with a mentor and got some great notes on my script. Along with notes from other writers and my own scratch pad ramblings, I’m prepared for a lightning speed rewrite (I think).

It has long been debated among many a macchiato sipping Odd-Jobber whether character is more important than story. Does character service story? Or does story service character? Hell if I know for certain, but it seems like without one, you don’t have the other.

Personally, I feel like if you can develop interesting characters, they pretty much tell the story for you. Put any two different characters in the same situation, say a hostage crisis, and it’s a different story. Han Solo and Indiana Jones handle a hostage crisis completely different… or wait, do they? Bad example. Put Han Solo and Rick Deckard… President James Marshall… Woodrow Dolarhyde… Jack Ryan… Okay maybe Harrison Ford wasn’t the best choice, but you get what I’m driving at.   

Traveling provides a unique opportunity to meet interesting characters. At one point while in Ireland the wife and I found a Bed and Breakfast in the town of Blarney. After traveling all day and not finding a comfortable place to spend the night, we settled on the last B&B in town. Thankfully, the place was a character writer’s haven.

The owner Tom was a mid sixties Irishman with a penchant for woodcarving, whiskey, and marijuana. His voice had a creamy mumbling drawl, and he breathed out audibly at the conclusion of every sentence. Tom was very proud of his fourth wife, whom we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting because she rarely leaves the bedroom. According to legend, she’s twenty years younger than Tom and loves marbled bacon.

Of his two boarders, one was a thirty something gay Pakistani man from London who couldn’t stop singing the praises of fine Irish chocolates. The other a late fifties mechanical engineer from Australia who’s voice was so soft and buttery it could quickly lull you to sleep.

It took forever for our room to be ready because Tom stated bluntly “I can’t foind the fookin’ duvet, and I can’t show you da room until I foind the fookin’ gold trim duvet” We didn’t much care if the duvet matched the bedspread, but Tom insisted he simply couldn’t let us see the room until we had all helped him look for the “the fookin’ ugly gold trim duvet”. Also, it took us forty-five minutes to get the shower to work, and we had hot water for approximately eight minutes.

After our brief shower Tom recommended we grab a bite to eat at the only place in town left open, The Chipper. After eating the worst pizza ever, ever, ever consumed, Tom informed us that he would never recommend The Chipper because “Dem fookers don’t know how to cook.” Apparently Tom’s memory was as short as his supply of duvets (whoa-ho-ho that was an Irish zinger)

Characters are everywhere my fellow Odd-Jobbers. There is usually someone or something nearby that can become an interesting character trait or situation. Ireland was a goldmine, but so is my neighborhood. Never forget that while the quirky lady running the Laundromat may be a standard for you, her mannerisms and ranting’s may be pretty interesting to a worldwide audience.

It is with the fervor of a thousand typewriters that I begin my quest to rewrite my screenplay character by character. After spending the last few days “killing my babies” (I did a whole lot of murdering, some sixty pages or so met their permanent doom, and the rest are getting a hefty overhaul) I am re-outlining, re-skeletoning, re-treatmenting and re-character mapping the whole shebang. Now, after re-brewing some coffee I am almost ready to rewrite.


Re-Tony Re-LaScala