By Kathy Clark
One of the best things I did to improve my overall writing skills was to take screenwriting classes. I had already had twenty-three novels published before I decided to give Hollywood a shot. There was no question that I knew how to plot a novel and create characters. But what I learned from writing screenplays was the delicate art form of pacing, set-ups and payoffs, backstory without lengthy narrative, and fast-paced scene structure. I also learned how to write interesting, realistic characters who reveal themselves through actions and dialogue.
I’ve read hundreds of blogs and articles about characters, plotting, and structure. Most cite classic authors such as Hemingway and Steinbeck. But when I was an adjunct professor, I used a little-know movie as my best example of a well-executed plot and great character development. It’s not what most would consider a must-see film, but on a basic level, it’s enjoyable. As an example of how to write a novel or a movie, it’s fantastic. The name of the movie is….drum roll, please…a 1987 Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell film, Overboard.
Not what you expected, I bet. But, considering that it was written by Leslie Dixon who also wrote Loverboy, Outrageous Fortune, and The Heartbreak Kid and directed by the incredibly talented Garry Marshall, it comes as no surprise that this film followed a tried-and-true formula.
The set-up is that a ridiculously spoiled heiress (Joanna), who is so disliked even her mother avoids her, hires a local carpenter (Dean) to remodel a closet on her yacht. He does a fabulous job but, instead of praise, she is rude, condescending, and shorts his pay. The author set up Joanna perfectly so that when she fell overboard during a stormy night, you weren’t very sympathetic. She is rescued, but she has amnesia and doesn’t realize her yacht is sailing off without her (and that her husband and crew are partying big time!) Through a plot twist, she ends up at Dean’s house under the misconception that she is his wife and Dean’s wild sons are her children. During the course of his attempt to get back at her, they fall in love and she learns humility, respect, and the true meaning of happiness. Anyway, you get the plot. Goldie’s character starts out as a totally unlikeable bitch. We all know that you can make your heroes and heroines as bad and flawed as you want…as long as they are eventually redeemed.
Goldie’s character began as an extreme. But remember, Overboard was released in 1987, pre-social media, even prior to the explosion of the internet. Update the character to 2016 and maybe change her last name to Kardashian, and you have basically the same shallow, self-centered person. The good news is that that kind of character has plenty of room to grow and develop. It’s important to give all your major characters a strong arc to show how they have changed and improved because of whatever went on during the course of the book, including true love.
But where do you start? How do you write characters who start out superficial and end up being substantive? Here are a few examples of people you don’t want to know by Shana Lebowitz as seen in the Business Insider. She has presented this for real people, but it’s easily adaptable to your fictional cast of characters. Pick one or two quirks as the basis for your characters’ genesis, then have fun with it.
Disclosing something extremely personal early on in a relationship
In general, people like each other more after they’ve traded confidences. Self-disclosure is one of the best ways to make friends as an adult.
But psychologists say that disclosing something too intimate — say, that your sister is having an extramarital affair — while you’re still getting to know someone can make you seem insecure and decrease your likability.
The key is to get personal without getting overly personal. As one study led by Susan Sprecher at Illinois State University suggests, simply sharing details about your hobbies and your favorite childhood memories can make you seem warmer and more likable.
Asking someone questions without talking about yourself at all
Susan Sprecher also found an important caveat to the idea that self-disclosure predicts closeness: It has to be mutual. People generally like you less if you don’t reciprocate when they disclose something intimate.
In the study, unacquainted participants either engaged in back-and-forth self-disclosure or took turns self-disclosing for 12 minutes each while the other listened. Results showed that participants in the back-and-forth group liked each other significantly more.
As the authors write, “Although shy or socially anxious people may ask questions of the other to detract attention from themselves, our research shows that this is not a good strategy for relationship initiation. Both participants in an interaction need to disclose to generate mutual closeness and liking.
Hiding your emotions
Research suggests that letting your real feelings come through is a better strategy for getting people to like you than bottling it all up.
In one study, researchers videotaped people watching the fake-orgasm scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally and a sad scene from the movie The Champ. In some cases, the actors were instructed to react naturally; in another they were instructed to suppress their emotions.
College students then watched the four versions of the videos. Researchers measured how much the students would be interested in befriending the people in the videos, as well as their assessments of the personalities of the people in the videos.
Results showed that suppressors were judged less likable — as well as less extroverted and agreeable — than people who emoted naturally.
Acting Too Nice
You might think you’ll win people over by acting altruistically, but science suggests otherwise.
In a 2010 study, researchers at Washington State University gave college students points that they could keep or redeem for meal-service vouchers. Participants were told that they were playing in groups of five — even though four of them were manipulations by the researchers — and were told that giving up points would boost the group’s chance of getting a monetary reward.
Some of the “fake” participants would give up lots of points and only take a few vouchers. As it turns out, most participants said they wouldn’t want to work with their unselfish teammate again. Some said the unselfish teammate made them look bad; others suspected they had ulterior motives.
To impress friends and potential employers, avoid complimenting yourself and trying to disguise it as self-criticism. This behavior, otherwise known as “humblebragging,” could be a turn-off, according to a recent study.
In the study, college students were asked to write down how they’d answer a question about their biggest weakness in a job interview. Results showed that more than three-quarters of participants humblebragged, usually about being a perfectionist or working too hard.
Yet independent research assistants said they’d be more likely to hire the participants who were honest, and found them significantly more likable. Those students said things like, “I’m not always the best at staying organized” and “Sometimes I overreact to situations.”
Not having a sense of humor
If you’re looking to make friends, you might want to loosen up.
One study of 140 Chinese workers between ages 26 and 35 found that people were less well-liked and less popular among their colleagues if they were “morally focused.” That means they placed a high value on displaying caring, fairness, and other moral traits.
The researchers explained that was because morally focused individuals were perceived as less humorous by their colleagues. Note that this research isn’t an excuse to stop caring about or acting fairly toward your coworkers. But consider it a reason to act less uptight around them.
When you’re at a networking event, meeting tons of new people, it can be hard to keep a smile plastered on your face. But you might want to try.
In one study, nearly 100 undergraduate women looked at photos of another woman in one of four poses: smiling in an open body position, smiling in a closed body position, not smiling in an open body position, or not smiling in a closed body position. Results showed that the woman in the photo was liked most when she was smiling, regardless of her body position.
Acting like you don’t like someone
Psychologists have known for a while about a phenomenon called “reciprocity of liking“: When we think someone likes us, we tend to like them as well.
In one study, for example, participants were told that certain members of a group discussion would probably like them. (These group members were chosen randomly by the experimenter.) After the discussion, participants indicated that the people they liked best were the ones who supposedly liked them.
If you don’t express fondness for the person you’re meeting, you could potentially turn them off and send them in search of someone who does seem to care about them.
Now that you know how to make your Johanna an unpleasant character, what are you going to do to make us love her?
Discover all of Kathy’s screenplays and novels on http://www.LoveRealityRomance.com
The current series are located as follows –
Adult Contemporary Romance [Denver Heroes & Austin Heroes]
New Adult Romance –
Young Adult Romance Time Travel –
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