You're safe. No Spice Girls references ahead.
Instead of feeling like I had found a golden ticket when I ran across this gem at Script about creating characters that actors will want to play, a writing fog lifted and I realized that this was something I already knew, something I had heard before, and something that shines a harsh light on the wrinkles in my writing complexion.
I hate wrinkles.
The Script article challenges writers to know their characters beyond the adjectives we use to describe them and suggests that characteristics do not define character because characters are, themselves, an action verb. While the analogy doesn't work for me (adjectives describe nouns, not verbs), the point being made does. Characters are not a handful of descriptions. Those are characteristics. Who characters are is demonstrated by what they want more than anything --- at that particular moment.
In this Wordplay column, Situation-Based Writing, Terry Rossio explains it this way, "Circumstances come from the world and impose onto characters from the outside, so to speak. Character wants come from inside the characters and push out at the world." He also says that once you know a character's "want", the situation exists. Be sure you read the entire column because he first discusses creating situations and how situation relates to character by being (1) immediate - somebody wants something or will be forced to want something right now and (2) imperative - somebody wants something badly.
Unknown Screenwriter once advised me to know the basic wants of each character before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard so their behavior in their circumstances will be consistent and logical, regardless of the situation. See what he did there? He, too, tied situation to character.
Our screenplays should reveal character by the characters' pursuits of what they want. In this way, there is no need to ever create a scene for the sole purpose of establishing character. Furthermore, in every single scene, somebody should want something.
So I ask you -- do you know in every scene what every character wants?
Reading through my Nicholl submission (just a few more days before the deadline), I am not only looking for typographical errors but I am also checking each scene to see if I've made it clear to the audience what my characters want. I know what my characters want but will a reader?
I hate wrinkles.