Masterclass.com course: Dramatic Writing with David Mamet
Day 7 Lesson #7 Character:
My lessons continue with David Mamet and my discovery of their app made learning more convient. I can learn on the go and fit everything into my busy schedule. Lesson number 7 moves into the meaning of character and I would say that David’s thinks along the lines of other writers such as Hemingway. He keeps his writing simple and his characters aren’t overly described.
According to him, it’s like all of our characters are at a party. We have impressions of people and introductions are lies or illusions. They are what we want other people to perceive because we want something from them. Everyone wants something from each other and character is really about action.
Most of the judgements people will make will not be based on what we say, but on what we do. Our characters in story should show actions, not descriptions. Describing them can leave out some of your audience. He gives the example of the prince, the salesman, and the woman. We don’t say the homely prince, the blond salesman, or the (color) woman. We can add those in later, but we need to focus on the action because our audience will create their own illusion.
How many times have we met people in person that didn’t look anything like the person we thought they would? Even if we have a photo, most likely it’s photoshopped, they don’t look the same in person.
Instead of focusing so much on their details, we should focus on their “habitual actions” to give the audience a clear picture of the main character. Our audience will say, that sounds like something this character would do, not because of their physical description but because of their character. This all goes back to the rule of showing not telling your audience. There’s no such thing as character.
In other words, writers stop giving party introductions to your audience and to the heart of the story. Write about how your character interacts, think about how they answer questions, and stop getting held up on physical descriptions. Why is your character on this journey or in this story?
I’m going to use this advice in my own writing. Sometimes, I get caught up in the physical details instead of focusing on the meat of the story. No more party introductions for my characters.
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