It was also great to hear [another writer's] words come to life and I leaned a lot from seeing a different writer's work evolve.

Karen Walton-Rolls

Writers constantly get stuck up in their heads, which is the weakest, most boring place to write from. Sceneplay gets you out of your head and into your guts and heart - back into that wonderfully messy place we call life.

Geof Miller,
Screenwriter, Script Coach

Helped me focus on specific objectives for the scene as well as other elements that could be introduced. It was great!

Sue Berg

  5 Ways to Make Your Character More Active

Vol. I, Issue 6, September 5, 2007
In this Issue
5 Ways to Make Your Character More Active

Active characters who want something are more engaging to watch. They're fun and magnetic for an audience because they create the story as they go. Discover five keys to make your hero drive the scene.

Upcoming Teleseminar

From book to screenplay in record time.  Hear how author Ben Sherman turned his true-life story into a passport to Hollywood.

A Note from Lisa
Dear lisa,

Summer is wrapping up here. My family and I just returned from a last blast on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. Our dear friends have a gorgeous waterfront vacation home which they generously share with us.

Apparently the spectacular location is catching on with the Hollywood set. Viggo Mortensen owns a home on the lake and is regularly spotted in Sand Point pumping gas for his boat. Ben Stein also did some house hunting close to town. Now, our friends are renting their house next month to an actor from the Back to the Future film series.

I imagine if you asked any of those actors what most attracts them to a role they'd say something like "a fascinating character". If you want to create interesting characters that attract top talent your character has to do interesting things. For some practical advice read today's feature article. Then grab your laptop and a copy of your script and park yourself at the Starbucks near the Sand Point docks. You may not get a chance to buy Viggo a latte, but I guarantee with a view like that you'll be inspired to write something remarkable.

Happy writing!

Warm Regards,

Lisa Phelps Dawes
President, Sceneplay
Coming Soon

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, September 12 at 6:30pm PST!  Registration for this FREE teleseminar opens this week!  Look for an email soon...

Then join us for a live phone interview and a chance to ask Ben questions.

Author Ben Sherman shares how his self-published book got snapped up by a major publishing house, turned into a screenplay and is now being shopped around Hollywood.

If you'd like to read back issues of SceneZine you can find them in the article archive on the Free Resources page at

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Feature Article
5 Ways to Make Your Character More Active

Does your main character suffer from PHS?

Passive Hero Syndrome.

Everything happens to him. Like the Great God of Story you visit plagues, pestilence and the occasional flood onto him yet he remains passive, inert.

Meanwhile, your antagonist, ever crafty and diabolical is busy doing things. He's got plans! He takes action. And he never gives up.

That's why villains are so much fun to watch. They're drivers. They make the story happen. Ideally, your main character should do the same thing. Sometimes, though, writers get so caught up torturing their hero that they forget to let the character have a will of his own.

Active characters want something. Sometimes it's a physical object. Sometimes it's words or an action. But a good, watchable character is always trying to make something happen in his world -- despite what may be happening to him. The audience is forced to follow along because we don't know what comes next. Through his desire and choices, the character is literally creating the story as he goes.

Here are five quick ways to turn your character into a driver of the scene:

1. Give your character a strong goal - but keep it out of reach.

Every character needs an objective in every scene -- every time. An objective is simply a goal; something that the character wants right now. It can be an actual object such as a gun, a letter or a diamond ring. It can also be words the character longs to hear: "I love you.", "You're right." or "Please, forgive me." Or the character can want someone else to take an action: wash the car, sign the contract, or give me an interview.

The simplest way to keep your character engaged is for him to want that thing deeply and not be able to get it. Like a cat toy, dangle it in front of him. Make it tantalizingly close, but just out of reach. For example, if you're character really wants his wife to sign divorce papers, have the scene start with her saying "Sure, I'll sign those." Then create one reason, one obstacle, after another that keeps her from actually doing it.

Keeping the goal just out of reach forces a character to try different approaches. Crank up the action by giving every character his own objective. That way, your main character isn't the only one pushing hard for what he wants. Multiple characters and conflicting goals energize your scene, and make it more engaging and complex.

2. Don't let your character stop until she gets something physical.

Suppose your character is in a car accident. Now, suppose it's the other driver's fault. You could decide that what your character really wants from the other driver is to admit it was his fault. OK, it takes a couple of beats, but he admits it. That will work fine, but there's a way to escalate the tension and wring even more conflict out of the scene. She can demand some tangible sign from him - proof that he knows he's wrong. She could ask him to get down on his knees, write out an apology or make out a check for the deductible on her insurance policy. Anything concrete will work.

Actors and directors call this a physical cap. Sure, you say you love me, but until you actually kiss me I'm not satisfied. Your character may not get the kiss or the check, but that's not the point. The point is to have something to drive toward.

When a character pushes for a physical sign of her goal it creates a powerful dynamic between characters. It reveals the intensity of the desire and pumps the scene with energy. It also reveals how powerful or weak one character is in relation to another. Can I get what I want from you? Which brings us to the third way to create a more active character...

3. Get someone else to do something.

This is the most difficult kind of goal for a character. It takes a lot of effort to get another person to do what we want and...we usually fail. That's a perfect recipe for an active, conflict-filled scene.

Think of poor Jerry MaGuire in the famous locker room scene. He confronts Rod Tidwell begging Rod to "help me, help you." It's not enough for Jerry to remind Rod of his love for the game. He won't be satisfied until Rod changes his attitude and proclaims his love of football. He fails utterly to meet his objective. Yet Rod is delighted with Jerry's passion. The scene works so well because Jerry not only has a strong goal that requires cooperation, but he has a strong need for support too.  So...

4. Make sure your character needs something desperately.

A need is different than a want. A need is necessary. It can't be negotiated. It's an emotional or psychological requirement that a character has to have right now in order to feel good. (For more details please see our Special Report.) It's not enough just to get the car keys; your character wants to feel a particular way once he gets them: safe, free, respected, etc.

Let's say, for example, your scene is about a 17 year-old boy who wants to borrow the family car. He spends the entire scene trying to convince his father he's responsible enough to handle it. At the end of the scene the father tosses him the keys but says, "Good thing the insurance is paid up. You'll just wreck it."

The boy may have won the keys but he lost the battle for respect. That dangling need for respect will make him want to do something, to act out, to prove himself. The scene is over but the character will leave with energy and emotion. The audience is left wondering "Uh oh. Now what's he going to do?"

5. Let a character walk out of the scene.

If all else fails, and you simply can't get the character to push hard, let the other character walk out of the scene. We use this technique at Sceneplay to move beyond the superficial and ferret out deeper issues between characters. We give both characters strong objectives. Then, if a character doesn't hear what he wants to hear from the other character, we give them permission to walk out. Your main character must scramble to get want he wants.

Again, it forces characters to try different tactics. It also forces a character to talk about critical issues.

Remember, nothing your character tries has to actually work. The fun for the audience comes in watching him struggle. Make your characters active and the audience will follow them anywhere.

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Lisa Phelps Dawes, President of Sceneplay, is an Emmy® award-winning writer/director helping screenwriters and producers rewrite their scripts using professional actors. If you're ready for your scenes to jump to life, work three times harder, and get noticed, get your FREE tips now at
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