How much pain are you prepared to inflict?

Having read literally hundreds and hundreds of short scripts over last few weeks as part of 50 Kisses, a piece of advice I was given many years ago is echoing through my mind.

‘You need to put your characters through more pain…’

This advice was given to me after a close and learned friend had read one of my scripts.

It was a revelation, and something I can see in so many of the scripts entered to 50 Kisses.

As writers, either consciously or subconsciously, we tend to protect and love our characters. We connect with them very powerfully, on many levels, and to cause pain to them will often cause pain to us.

Very often I can see myself literally writing myself onto the page (or a fantasy version of myself), or writing a dream character that I am a little bit in love with. And the last thing I really want to do is kick myself or someone I love squarely in the teeth. Again, I saw this trend repeatedly in 50 Kisses.

But kicking them in the teeth is exactly what needs to be done. Find their weakness and exploit it.

As a reader, or a viewer of the final film, I have nowhere near the same depth of connection and relationship with the characters as the writer does.

We all know that the writers job is to make me care deeply, then make it uncomfortable for me, so that I engage more deeply. And to make me care deeply with the very least of information on the page. Less is more. Always. There’s a reason why screenwriting is incredibly hard.

So the question for all of us is, how can we turn the thumbscrews that bit more to put our characters in greater jeopardy and pain?

Have a go right now, just review something your are working on right now and see how much more pain you can plausibly put the character in – and note how you feel about it.

If you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable or queasy, you might be writing about yourself or you may have fallen in love with your characters… And if you have, it’s time to get a bit psycho…

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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5 Responses to How much pain are you prepared to inflict?

  1. Bill Clar August 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Very interesting article. It may be a character flaw on my behalf, but I have no qualms about hurting my characters. I’m better friends with pain than happiness so I write to my strengths.

  2. Daneeta Loretta Jackson August 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Thanks Chris! This is exactly the advice I need this morning. Destiny is 19, cute and her character is based on my wonderful niece. I was having so much trouble writing the scene where she gets beaten up. It’s good to be reminded that this is FICTION.



  3. Chris August 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Delighted it helped Daneeta, i keep this one up my sleeve and use it regularly

  4. Marcos El Malo August 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I think it’s a two parter. Create a character that (hopefully) the audience will care about, then get the audience emotionally involved by screwing with the character. There’s a balance of sadism and masochism involved: sadism being required to inflict the pain, masochism because we must identify with the character to some degree if we wish our audience to identify with him or her.

    Without this tension, stories tend to be boring and second acts come across as being flat.

    I’m currently writing a novel, but I’m finding it useful to use a three act structure. I don’t need to conform closely to three acts, because one can be much freer with novel structure, but, IMHO, nothing beats three acts for conveying drama.

  5. Khurshid Alam August 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Exactly! I’ll implement.

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