1. Turducken
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    Turducken New Member

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    The Most Efficient Way to Tell Character's Past?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Turducken, Dec 5, 2012.

    I'm writing a feature screenplay and I would like to illustrate the protagonist's past, but I'd really prefer to do so without using any flashback sequences. I really want the action to flow smoothly and I think flashbacks will compromise the tone and pacing of the overall product.

    The main plot is extremely similar to The Fugitive, which actually did utilize flashbacks to show Harrison Ford's struggle with the one-armed man, letting the audience know that he was innocent.

    The character in question is a genius who could've gone on to become the next Steve Jobs except that his dream in life is to die valiantly serving his country. (His father, grandfather, and all his brothers died in combat). I feel like this backstory is critical to understanding his actions in the film. His tragic flaw is... I don't know the proper word for it but it's basically that he gives of himself until there's nothing left. His desire to self-sacrifice results in his demise.

    I suppose I could have another character look up his file, and then reveal that information by scrolling over paperwork and images. Like having his photo in army fatigues juxtaposed to a diploma from M.I.T. etc

    Anyway thanks for reading, would love to hear to any ideas!
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Probably the best way is to do it with dialogue. The screenplay format doesn't allow for exposition, so you're limited there.

    Maybe you could have a montage of images from his past being shown under the opening credits, so that the audience knows enough of his backstory before the story proper actually begins.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most efficient? Or most effective?

    Although I am a proponent of writing concisely, efficiency is not a principle I would use for good writing. I would never, for example, sacrifice clarity for efficiency.

    But instead of answering with techniques for exposing character background, I'll ask you to step back and reconsider the whole notion of laying out the character's history. Unless that background is truly the focus of the story, such as a character who was adopted trying to track down his biological parents, leave it out. On;y introduce the details that are relevant to the story, and only when the reader really needs to know.

    I don't know how much writing experience you have, but obsessively presenting background information is a classic mistake of less experienced writers.
     
  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Dialogue with other characters is usually the best way, but not always delivered in a single conversation. Just look at how Taylor's past and reason for joining are delivered in Platoon. The character can be doing something with someone else while discussing where he came from. Or, two other characters who are chasing him could also have an independant conversation, discussing his past and his motivations. They could interview people he knows and they can also give small pieces of information about his need to give his all. That's all very vague, but I don't know enough about your script to make better suggestions. It seems the backstory is small enough to be effectively delivered within non intrusive dialogue.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i write screenplays and mentor aspiring screenwriters... here are the best ways to do that w/o resorting to cliched flashback or montage:

    ...any/all of those can effectively let the audience know what you need them to know about this person's past...
     
  6. IanLC
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    IanLC Member

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    Allow the flow of the story to shed light on the past of the character. When we write and allow the story to flow we reveal alot about our Characters and ourselves in the writing. the human mind can pick up and add lots of ideas to writings that they read it is a part of that inward inspiration we have.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ok advice for prose, ian, but this poster is writing a movie script, which is an altogether different medium and will not be read by its intended audience...
     
  8. IanLC
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    IanLC Member

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    Okay I see. I'm not an expert on film scripts and script writing. I'm so sorry!!:confused:
     
  9. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Dialogue mate! If nothing else its what viewers are used to. Trying a device too innovative might not be a risk worth taking.
    Even with a book dialogue is useful, but screenplays are ideal for it.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    however, one should avoid using dialog as an info dump... which is why i have provided other ways to let the audience know things about the character...
     
  11. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Seconded. I hate when they do that it cr@ppy TV dramas. You get 42 minutes of sentences people would never plausibly say.
     

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