Giving Your Characters Some Business

dramatic young man
Giving Your Characters Some Stage Business Can Add Drama

In an interview I heard a while back, actor Tommy Lee Jones talked about how he had to have a little prop around to work with because he always want to have some business going on, if you watch him in a movie, he’s usually fiddling with something. The business he referred to is known as Stage Business.

Stage Business is the little actions preformed by actors while they deliver their lines or are on the side of the main action. These actions transform them from actors standing around saying lines into characters. The business can range from how a character holds their coffee cup to the way they interact with another actor in the background. In real life people do all kinds of things while they talk, they sip on a coffee cup, push paper clips around their desk, they reach out and touch the person they are with, or not. These actions are the forms of non-verbal communication that add subtext and meaning to a conversation. They tell us what’s going on inside the person’s head.

Writing: Distractions & Social Awkwardness

photo of young man with long black hair
What I’m thinking Jonas, aka Raven, looks like in “Fairy Falls”.

So I wonder if other writes have awkward situations like I do? I’ve been kind of stuck on the Fairy Falls story. And I thought a change of venue would be a good thing. For some reason the background noise and the power of white chocolate mocha seem to tickle the muses.

I’m at the point in the story where I want to introduce the love interest to our protag. At the moment, I’m thinking he will be partaking of some personal adult behavior on a rather sacred stone when our hero stumbles upon him in the woods. (Yeah I know this sounds like the set-up of 85% of most porn films. I really hope it doesn’t come off that tacky. That’s why I’m kind of stuck on the scene.)

Anyway, I’m trying to get the hero out in the wood when the man I want naked wanking on the rock walks in to Starbucks. It was rather jarring. Now the photo in this post is how I envision Jonas. And the guy standing in line waiting for his latte doesn’t look exactly like the guy in the photo, but close enough that it is captivating, er, distracting. I kind of want to see if he moves and interacts like I imagine Jonas to. A photo is great but studying a real live person is so much more informative.

And this is where the awkward part comes in. How long can you look at a stranger before it becomes all stalker-creepy like? You begin to hear real life dialogue like, “Hey man, that old guy over there with the laptop is really perving on you.”

You could offer up that you are doing research. But then you might have to disclose what the research is for. Is it socially acceptable to say, “I was just wondering what you’d look like laying naked on a big rock in the middle of the woods masturbating?”

Would the police be moved by the plea, “It’s okay, I’m a writer.”?

Maybe I should stick to stock images.

Metaphor and Voice

guy lying on grass
Use of distinctive metaphors will give characters a strong voice.

Most of the stories I’ve been working on are pretty character driven. I tend to start with a character and then wonder what they are up to in order to get the plot moving along. One of the things I worry about is Character Voice. I come from a video/film background and could kind of fudge on Voice in scripts because that is one of the wonderful things an actor brings to the work. As an aside, I am in awe of an actors ability to become someone else and bring a character to life. For writers working in a text based media, we have to do all of the work. (Well actually the reader does the work but we have to lay the ground work.)  So I worry about getting the distinct vibrant personalities in my head down on the “paper” so the reader can experience these people the way I do.

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