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Monday, July 04, 2011

A limp and an eye patch

I don't quote many of the screenwriting books on here. The reason is two fold. One, you probably have read all those anyway. And two, a blog should be more about a personal journey and new ideas.

So in that good old-fashioned screenwriting traditional of breaking your old rules this post is about Blake Snyder's idea that he calls "A Limp and an Eye Patch".

This involves making sure all your characters have a way of speaking, a way of moving, a weird view of the world - anything - that makes them stand out from other characters. You know why that matters if you ever read a script and had to keep flicking back and forth through the pages because although you read that "Frank" now does something, you can't remember who Frank is because he sounds and acts like everyone else.

The reason for thinking about this technique is that some of my notes from the development day on Friend Request were that some characters are more magnetic and appealing than others. All of them do the right things, say good dialogue and have a bit of emotional depth etc. But some are just more memorable, they are interesting to read about, they simply have more of a... character!

The others need to be brought up to that level. They need that limp and an eye patch, a character hook you may call it.

BUT, how do you know if this technique is working. After all, you don't want a script populated by a bunch of weirdo freaks who talk funny for no reason. I link this back to a clip from Mr Plinkett; the Han Solo / Qui-Gon Jinn test. He does a test. Can you sum up the character quickly, without talking about their appearance, job or actions? Or not?

Han Solo you can. Qui-Gon Jinn, not really.

Using the Limp and Eye Patch, checked by the Han Solo / Qui-Gon Jinn test seems to work for me.


Garth said...

That is a useful rule of thumb, thanks, although a lot of people do naturally sound alike - those in a close circle of friends will often mirror each other, and talk in very similar ways.

Children of domineering parents will often mirror them in their quest for approval.

Sometimes the search to make each character distinct can lead away from inauthenticity.

Also, for what it's worth, I've found that sometimes an 'eyepatch' can lead me into a deadend - I find my character is becoming predictable - the eyepatch has become an albatross around their neck. Most of us have a degree of behavioural ambiguity that makes us more interesting.

Just a couple of thoughts...

Tim Clague said...

Good notes Garth.

I think deliberately writing people who mirror others for the kinds of reasons you mention is spot on. That shows you have thought about the characters and you could clearly demonstrate this theme by them finishing each others sentences, cutaways of them saying the same thing etc. That would work well and is very different from everyone in the story just sounding slightly similar (a common problem)

And yes, eyepatch shouldn't mean predictable and boring and / or one dimensional. It shouldn't be the defining feature of a character. Taking the example literally then you don't want "a guy with an eye-patch", you want a fully rounded, complex pirate character. But when I'm talking to my friends about him after the film I say, you know, the one with the eye patch.