Liars Club

Where Do You Find Them?

by Keith Strunk on January 24, 2011

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Process

Burning Question 15 – Readers’ Most Frequent Questions, Answered!

“How do you come up with your characters?”

I’ve written a lot of scripts over the years for the corporate sector.  The content tends to be a bit dry so I’ve made it a point to make the final pieces easier to watch by adding as many off-beat characters as my sometimes nervous clients will allow.  Eventually, my clients relax and often ask me how I come up with my characters.

The answer is “they’re all around us.”

In acting school, we were encouraged to go out to public places (malls, cafes, bars, etc.) and quietly engage in people watching.  A bit of human behavior voyeurism, if you will.  I would simply sit quietly reading a book or writing in a journal and watch and listen.  I’d then focus on the interesting interactions and activities as they happened around me.  I still do this and it yields countless characters upon which to draw as a writer.

The key here is that the behavior you observe serves as a developmental starting point for your characters.  In no way should you be copying the people you observe exactly, they are simply a creative springboard.

I once overheard an animated conversation at a pub about the “reality” that we’re paralyzed when we sleep, which is “why we can’t run away from stuff in our dreams.”  I used this interchange to create a fun character in a script trying to prove his “sleep-induced paralysis” theory.  Only appearing a few brief moments throughout, he was just the thing I needed to lighten the piece up and make it more fun to watch.

When it comes to characters, I like Mark Twain’s advice…“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series.  He is an award winning scriptwriter and co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.


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