We are delighted to have Screenwriter, Playwright, Novelist and Hollywood Historian, Michael Druxman, as a part of the WLT faculty this year. Michael’s class Creating Effective Characters will be held September 22, at St. Edwards University. Even the most plot-oriented story must have believable, engaging characters for it to work for the viewing or reading audience. Characters are people. People are complex. Complex people are interesting. This class will deal with methods and exercises that you can employ to make your characters complex and interesting. This workshop will cover topics on how to build an interesting, three-dimensional character; how dialogue and action are used to reveal character; how to find your character’s inner “demon;” and “Character violation” and how to avoid it.
Q & A with Michael Druxman
Writers’ League: What, if any, are the largest differences from writing a screenplay to writing a novel?
Michael Druxman: Certainly the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay is “real estate”.
With a novel, you have 200-400 pages or more to tell your story and develop your characters. Your normal screenplay is about 120 pages in length, so that you have to boil your story down to its essence and paint your characters in broader strokes. But, you also need to include enough detail (or hints) about the characters so that the actors can flesh them out through their performances.
Film is a collaborative medium and depends more on visual images than the spoken or written word. A good actor can often convey a writer’s intent with a look rather than a line of dialogue.
Additionally, unless there is something special about a location, all a screenwriter has to write is that a scene is set in, say a restaurant. You can even indicate what kind of restaurant if you feel it is important to the scene. Beyond that, the director and art director take over.
When you’re writing a novel, however, that setting might have to be more carefully described, so that the reader can visualize it.
The same applies to characters. When you are working on a novel, you have much more freedom to expand on a character’s physical characteristics and background.
That’s not to say that, with a screenplay, you shouldn’t know your character’s background or physical characteristics. But, in that medium, they become subtext.
WLT: What is your preparation/process for writing a novel? And a screenplay?
MD: They are pretty much the same for both. I structure my story, map out my characters. I research whatever needs to be researched, then I write.
Assuming I’m not crafting a mystery, when I begin writing, I only have a general idea how my story is going to end (e.g. the good guy wins). I usually have my first act pretty well planned out in my head when I start, but beyond that, I write “by the seat of my pants”. Truly, if I’m on the right track, then beyond that first act, the story pretty much writes itself.
WLT: To date, what is your greatest memory/accomplishment as a writer?
MD: As a screenwriter: Cheyenne Warrior, which was produced in 1994 by Roger Corman.
As a playwright: A toss-up between Jolson, my one-man play that has been produced in several venues around the country, and Lombard, a one-woman play that was staged in Los Angeles and is scheduled for a production next year in Fort Wayne, IN, Carole Lombard’s home town.
As a novelist: Shadow Watcher (2008), published by The Center Press.
As a writer of non-fiction: my memoir, My Forty-Five Years in Hollywood and How I Escaped Alive (2010), published by BearManor Media.
WLT: How will your workshop help those struggling with character? How important are effective characters to your writing?
MD: Hopefully, it will help students to discover the essence of their characters. Every character has a “demon”; the thing that makes them tick. More often than not, the character does not recognize that they even are “possessed”.
If you don’t have effective characters in your story, then readers and viewers are not going to care about what happens to them. They will not become emotionally involved in your story.
Michael B. Druxman is a veteran Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include Cheyenne Warrior with Kelly Preston; Dillinger and Capone starring Martin Sheen and F. Murray Abraham; and The Doorway with Roy Scheider, which he also directed. Additionally, Mr. Druxman is the author of more than fifteen published books, including several nonfiction works about Hollywood, its movies, and the people who make them (e.g., Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films, Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes, One Good Film Deserves Another: A Survey of Movie Sequels, Merv [Griffin] and The Musical: From Broadway to Hollywood).
He has taught various dramatic writing and film appreciation courses in an adult university and is the author of How to Write a Story…Any Story: The Art of Storytelling, which has been used as a text in several colleges. He is often invited to speak to groups of aspiring film and television professionals to discuss screenwriting and the realities of show business. A native of Seattle who graduated from Garfield High School and the University of Washington, Mr. Druxman moved with his wife, Sandy, from Los Angeles to Austin, TX in 2009. His memoir, My Forty-Five Years in Hollywood and How I Escaped Alive, is published by Bear Manor Media. To learn more, visit his website at http://www.druxmanworks.com.