There was a great exercise in Andy Goldberg's improv class recently. Yes, I still take an improv class. (You'd think I'd be better after all these years, but I take it anyway.)
This was the exercise: we had to play a character based on someone we knew. Not a celebrity -- no Al Pacino impersonations -- and not a caricature. We had to pick a real person we knew and really try to become him. Voice cadence, body language, attitude, pet phrases, endearing (or annoying) quirks.
The result was a series of wonderful scenes. Everyone in the class rose to the occasion -- even the guy who usually just gets by on glibness. Oh wait. That was me.
Anyway, the thought occurred that this is the perfect exercise for writers. So often writers create characters that are generic, or cliched, or not even that well-drawn. A great idea is to model your characters off of specific people you know. Imagine them playing the parts. Hear their voices in your head. I bet it will be so much easier to write them.
Draw up a list. Who are ten really interesting, maybe bizarre, people you know? At first you'll wonder if you can come up with ten. Then you'll hit fifteen and realize you're still just listing family.
We all know people who are naturally funny. Most don't try to be. But their take on the world, their reaction to frustration, the way they eat their food -- that's all comedy gold when you're developing your script. Especially now since agents and producers all want original material along with spec scripts for existing shows.
So don't just create slacker dude -- model him after Chad who you buy your weed from. Looking for a real asshole? How about that guy, Scott, who dumped you at your aunt's funeral?
A great example of this is GIRLS. I'd be shocked if Lena Dunham didn't model all of those characters after people she knew. And then took actual conversations from them.
Now you might say, yeah but the people I use as models will see themselves and hate me. 90% of the time when I have done this the person in question will come up to me and say, "hey, I know someone just like that!".
Start writing that list.
As for the character I chose? He was a writer friend who always whined. Not that he was always complaining. That's just the way he talked. So I played him at a restaurant on a date, and all he did was deliver good news. He got a promotion, increase in salary, etc. And he whined through the whole speech. Without a single "joke" I got laughs throughout.
And there are countless other people I could have used. Just in the class alone.
Seriously, start writing that list.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM