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Character Files: No One Is Safe

By Michael Schilf · June 25, 2010

After graduating from University, I found myself working in construction for a year, and during this time – still a closet writer – I began learning the tools of the trade, both as a carpenter and screenwriter. I mastered nail guns and miter saws while creating my first characters.

There were seven of us. I was “college boy”. Phil was the divorced, alcoholic foreman. Tom was the family man. Jackson, an ex-Nasa photographer. Ron, the conspiracy theorist. Chris, the want-a-be glam-rocker. And Lentz was the fool. We were all carpenters, bonded by profession, yet we were completely different characters.

I was the new guy, so mostly I listened, and at the end of the day, I went into my files, adding character details to each of my six construction comrades. I did this for a year, travelled Europe and North Africa for another year, still adding to the files, and by the time I came out of the writing closet, I had dozens of characters ready for action.

If I needed a carpenter in a script, I had six to choose from. Maybe Ron was perfect for the role, or maybe a combination of Phil and Jackson was the answer. Or maybe I created something else entirely. The point, of course, is to get in the habit of keeping organized files – on everyone! Each person you meet is a potential character. Strangers, friends, family:  no one is safe.