Tell Me More

Jan
24
2015

It first happened when I was writing a small-budget feature. I needed a character to voice the bigoted viewpoint of some people in a small Montana town. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains. I know people like this.

The character was supposed to be the crotchety guy at the end of the bar. He’s old. He’s tipsy. He’s a jerk who’s always spouting hateful things about anyone who’s not a socially conservative, close-minded, ignorant, middle-class white guy. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks. People dismiss his chatter, while secretly agreeing with him.

In his first scene I needed him to pooh-pooh the central idea of the story. That’s all. The job I’d created him for was to acknowledge, for the whole town, just how far-fetched the primary conceit of the story was. Someone had to flat-out say it. I created Lynn Mitchell to do the dirty work.

But after he did it, he wouldn’t shut up. His daughter owned the bar and asked him not to, “…be like that.” But Lynn was his own man and wouldn’t keep quiet. Not even I could get him to stop throwing in his two cents. He started talking about his past. Later, he dropped hints about his feelings. Eventually, he appeared outside of the bar. Turns out he had been one of the main character’s best friends. Alcoholism had caused them to become estranged. Eventually, he found his way into the climactic final scene. And I let him do it. To this day, I don’t know why.

Lynn taught me to listen to the writing process. His emergence as a character, rather than a one-dimensional storytelling cog, provided depth and backstory for several other characters. It happened because I followed the story where it took me, rather than following a strict outline, as I’d been taught.

Letting Lynn take the lead pushed the story in a more interesting direction than I had originally conceived. It was my first experience with what became my screenplay writing process. Today, I start with the main and secondary characters. I learn as much as I can about them before I start the screenplay. Then I put them into a loose framework, and let them draw me through their story.

Thanks Lynn, I’ll always be grateful to you for that.

The Great Rabbit Mark

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