Scriptnotes Episode 298 – How Characters Move and Speak in Scripts

On May 2nd 2017, John August and Chris Mazin speak on the Scriptnotes podcast with character movement and portraying character physicality. They spoke of how to go about employing such technique in screenplays in both senses – in terms of writing in general, and then in terms of having characters say something without verbal communication (i.e. body language).

August admits that as he goes along, he generally does not think about this consciously, and generally blocks that characters, but doesn’t do much else: “Thinking through what character movement’s could be and when it’s helpful to call them out, because a lot of times, I’ve seen them in my head, but I haven’t bothered to describe them on the page” (August and Mazin 2017).

Mazin notes this reaction is normal and that sometimes it isn’t always necessary. “It will always be necessary for an actor to make a choice about their own physicality…. but in key moments it’s important for us to think about it and you can kind of break it down into two categories – one is situation and one is constitutional” (August and Mazin 2017).

They discuss motion, but they note that a physicality of a character can indicate certain aspects and how a character moves through a space, such as posture, strength and weakness, a slight limp. They use the example of “No Country for Old Men” where a character limps, which becomes important to his character. “99% of writers will not really go there” Mazin notes. “But they should, it doesn’t mean that you should always do something like that… but when you’re creating a monster and give him a slight imperfection, calling back to Frankenstein’s monster, it could be really interesting” (August and Mazin 2017).

They mention behavioral ticks, such as “um’s” and suggest that writer’s listen to people and watch people with the sound off in their head – what are the things that people do. Mazin continues by saying: “Those little things sometimes tell us so much, and the audience enjoys [this]. They know that that character really isn’t aware of it… we’re learning something about them that they don’t want us to know” (August and Mazin 2017).

The two then go on to three reader submissions where they go over three important points of each three-page submitted script:

  1. Action and dialogue can sometimes go on for too long. Writer’s essentially need to show us what we need to know, but not everything we see.
  2. You can sometimes nix the INT./EXT. to create a voice for yourself, but know that they will be put in at some point.
  3. Make sure that dialogue has a purpose and relates to the action. Attempt to do something different with tropes such as characters riding off into the sunset.

Work Cited

August, John, and Chris Mazin. “Scriptnotes 298: How Characters Move.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 2 May 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.