The character’s secret life illustrates all that happens to them before the scene or the film/story begins. Knowing your character’s secret life is intended to assist writers in creating engaging and authentic characters.
Even when you develop the fascinating secret life for your character, keep in mind that most of that will never make it to the script. Films are very limited by time, which means that as you write, you will have to be very intentional about which aspects of your character’s life will make it to the final script and which won’t.
TV and online shows have more screen time to reveal characters past, but it doesn’t mean that you are obliged to disclose everything and anything, if you write a TV show. In reality, if details and specific aspects of the character’s secret life aren’t part of the current story, there is no need to include that in the script. If you want to reveal your character’s past, you could always publish short stories or record short videos as part of the film’s/screenplay’s marketing and promotional campaign.
When it comes to what makes into your script, focus rather on the character’s past events relevant to the current story. You can cleverly refer to those incidents by using small details, actions, dialogues, or flashbacks, and at times one word or sentence is plenty.
Another tool that I’ve found helpful in creating more dynamic and robust scenes is to start writing the scene way earlier than it begins in the script, or write an extra scene that happens before the actual scene that you know will never make its way to the final draft. In the scene that doesn’t make into the script, you could reveal some secrets your character has been holding onto, and bits of those secrets could make it to the final script. But you have no obligation to explain them. Sometimes things left unexplained create more powerful and memorable stories.
Referring to events outside of the actual script would indicate to your audience that your character has lived before the story begun and led an exciting life that contributed to who they are now and where they are in life.
In my opinion, writing a backstory or crafting a character’s bible is valuable while developing characters. However, still, a lot will be revealed to you about the characters through re-writes. So, start with the things you already know about your characters and allow time and space to uncover more details about their secret lives. Sometimes, one scene is enough to show everything the audience needs to know about the character.
Don’t forget that the villains should get the same treatment as the heroes; make them as interesting as the heroes are.
They also have secret lives, and you could use the same tools/tricks to make them expose bits of their secret lives to the audience. The villains often represent the hero’s dark side (heroes should have a dark side as well).
I thought that “Crash” depicted the secret lives of the characters nicely, only revealing what the audience needed to know. Grab a copy of the script and watch the movie.
This is my last blog for the summer. I’ll be back in September.
For now check out my archives.