Creating Characters

Creating Characters

By Saenah B., Age 16

“Welcome to our big fat day of screenwriting and monologue!”

            With these words, the audience of eager WriteGirl mentees and mentors proceed to whoop and cheer. Clare Sera, famous screenwriter and witty WriteGirl mentor, takes a deep bow before ushering in WriteGirl’s executive director, Keren Taylor. We listen to Keren kick off the day, many of us cradling notebooks in our laps like Bibles, ready to create characters and compose scenes.

            Although this is already my third character and dialogue workshop, each year brings exciting surprises and guest stars. When I first enter the lobby of the Linwood Dunn Theater, I notice a rack of eccentric attire, from chic flapper dresses to fur-lined blue capes to a traditional German dirndl. Behind each outfit is a story: the women who irons her traffic officer uniform for work the next day, the bustling German lass with her hair woven into a dirty blonde plait. This demonstrates how tirelessly the volunteers at WriteGirl work to bring something interesting to the table every workshop.

            Next to the rack is an assortment of random trinkets and everyday objects you might find in the coat pocket of a detective or the glove compartment of your car. Wind-up robots, a dirt-free baseball, elbow-length neon green gloves, and a globe featuring constellations instead of countries are just some of the many props that girls can gain inspiration from. Their job is to find a prop that their character (whether it be the heroine, sidekick, or nemesis) might need while on the go.

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            Mentees and mentors sit in clusters on the carpeted stairs in the Dunn lobby, glued to their notebooks or leaning in close to discuss their stories and exhausting week. Eyes glance curiously at what their neighbor is writing next to them. The walls of the lobby are decked with framed photographs of behind-the-scenes movie photography, from black and white to 3-D.

            Throughout the workshop, many professional writers provide valuable tips. Keren Taylor offers her own advice, stressing that we should make everywhere we go an opportunity to find interesting characters. Clare adds that every scene has a beginning, middle, and end that reveals something new and has to have surprises.

            Among a few women I meet are Jane Anderson and Jamie Pachino, two well-known screenwriting professionals. Jane confides that every scene contains DNA of the entire story and that, as writers, we must take responsibility for all our characters. Jamie Pachino speaks of the four principles of writing a good script: What does the character want? Why can’t she get it? What is she willing to do to get it? And what are the consequences? Lastly, language is a fingerprint and no one has the same way to express something.

            Afterward, a panel of talented women writers speak about their own experiences and offer tips for writer’s block. Some dance to music while others take a walk and do everything else but write. Regardless, a deadline is a deadline and they get the job done.

            The day ends with actors performing our scenes or monologues and Wayne Brady spitting fire as he delivers an impromptu rap about WriteGirl (see video below!). I am already itching for the next WriteGirl workshop, and I hope to see you all there with your pens ready to write!