Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Giving your characters rope...

As you plunge into your first draft on any project it's imperative that you allow your characters free rein to wander where they want to wander.  To let them surprise you as they find their rhythm and start wanting to go places you haven't charted for them to go in your pre-draft work.  In other words, give them some rope...
This is an essential requirement if you ever hope to write a script with a sense of spontaneity and that comes fully to life.  And it's what keeps the writing of that draft a true adventure.

However, there is one caveat.

To keep your characters from getting hopelessly lost and turning back to you for guidance (which they most certainly will), it's equally imperative that you have a well crafted plot outline worked out beforehand that supplies a basic road map to get you from the starting gate of your story to your final destination.  It can never be written in stone, but it should definitely supply a charted path from beginning to end if and when you need it.  Because this is what frees you up and liberates you--by allowing those wonderful characters you've fallen in love with to take as much rope as they feel they need as they journey through the wilderness of your first draft.

And then when they do get lost, you have the means to pull them back on track.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting


  1. Oh, I love this! This is one of the concepts that finally "hooked" me into the idea of really focusing on plot outlines and pre-writing work. Initially, I didn't like how restrictive it all seemed (where's the artistry, the spontaneity?!), but then I realized the two concepts are mutually exclusive. The outlines and preparation is really just ensuring that you have a solid foundation to build a house that stands. I love this concept of "giving them rope" whilst meanwhile having a means of pulling them back in! We ARE the creators, after all! It's like a good parent that allows their kid to explore, but knows when it's time to put boundaries and say "no."

  2. Thanks, Kara. You seem to have this figured out--glad to hear that this process is working for you. I like to call all the prep/exploratory/plot outlining as "purchasing" the right to then liberate your characters to go on an adventure in your first draft. --B