Last Saturday we held a Stage & Screen special with CBBC script-developer Jonathan Wolfman workshopping our story ideas.  One comment Jonathan made really resonated with me –  introduce the completely unexpected. See what happens if your character meets with an unpredictable event; make your character behave in a completely unexpected way; have the chemistry between your character and their situation result in an unforeseen outcome.
For example, the average scriptwriter would opt for the cliché of the rich, ruthless man coming up against another character (the engaging orphan boy perhaps) or finding himself in an unusual situation (stranded with the poor but loving Peruvian peasant family) which changes him.  Our hard-nosed billionaire becomes more human, more compassionate; he uses his wealth and power to found an orphanage or build the peasant family a spanking new hovel and, in the process, he gains the inner peace and contentment he lacked.  But what if he becomes more greedy and more powerful instead?  He sees the entrepreneurial possibilities in trafficking orphans or planting coca on the peasants’ land and enslaving them to harvest it; the character has still experienced a journey, the key to story, except he’s reversed our expectations; it won’t make for a feel-good movie but it will make for a more exciting drama.
Jonathan says writers need to explore these possibilities even if the exploration doesn’t result in your final storyline.  He also says it’s up to us to retain the authenticity of our vision as writers.  Don’t confuse your archetypal character with the clichéd character – there is always room for the former.  Remember stereotypes become stereotypes because there is some truth in them; it’s up to the writer to make them three dimensional and original.
However, in the quest for original characters don’t go down the TV cop show route creating paradoxes and quirks seemingly by a random selection of unusual habits, personality traits and biographical details – “Hey have we had a wheelchair-using, female Chinese detective who’s divorced, recovering from alcoholism,  quotes poetry,  plays jazz, and sucks a lollipop?”   Keep it organic, authentic and credible then you might write something truly original.
Ardella Jones
Our next Stage & Screen workshop is 1 pm Saturday 13 April at Balham Bowls Club with former TV producer Jo Hepplewhite on writing scenes without dialogue.