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  • EthanFrank

Character is Story: Part II



There's a law in psychology created by two Harvard professors that says, "As problems seem larger, our ability to solve them declines as a result of fear or anxiety" - Yerkes-Dodson Law. Don't try to take on everything at once, and I'll try to keep things succinct.

Actors look at scripts in terms of actions and beats. Actions are miniature goals that are based on their relevancy to the throughline of the character.

Within a scene, there may be more than one action. Usually, in film, there are only one or two actions in a given scene. They are separated by markers called beats.

Therefore, it is your job as a writer to set up a goal for each character in the scene, and then present a new piece of information that changes that miniature goal. The new piece of information is a beat.

Example of a beat: The girlfriend says she is cheating, a tree falls on the main character's car, a new character is introduced, etc..

Examples of actions: beg a loved one's forgiveness, take what is rightfully mine, enlist a brother to join the cause, cheer up a depressed soul, convince a friend to take a big leap, put a jerk in their place, persuade a girl to love me, let a subordinate know who's boss, grab a celebrity's attention.

Notice that these examples have good action verbs and that they are in the present tense.

Notice also that I threw in the words "me" and "mine". Use your own experience to give a voice to the character. Even if the character is a serial killer, you can pull from your past to make that character speak or act in a way that is unique. In order to avoid cliches and give your characters depth, either successfully put yourself in another person's shoes or use your own experiences to guide their existence.