There is, amid blood and oil, milk and honey to be found flowing in the 24-hour news cycle. Inchoate thoughts take root when reading about people who make the news, and the many forms human nature takes. These thoughts are only shaped into embodiment by the characters who live in our pages, our screens, and most vibrantly, our own worlds.
I get my ideas from constant observation, my own eye in a fine frenzy rolling in its own defined, frenzied lens. The things of this earth (people, places, creatures, events) are always before my eyes in my commute, my communities. The things of heaven (the unknown and the unseen, the spiritual, the mysterious) are always in the back of my head in my imagination. When I see someone, meet someone, or recall someone—only then can I create someone, and then recreate them.
To start with character is to truly start with the heart of the piece. From around that point, the skeleton, the structural framework manifests. What keeps the idea moving and living are the ligaments that form and fuse everything together. Here is the human, whose story needs to be told. Here is the way the story will be told. Here is the development, the growth, the connective elements within the person and to the viewer.
I gravitate towards literature and history when I write. There is a long tradition to the former that we as writers belong to; there is a long tradition to the latter that we as humans belong to—all for better or for worse. Thus most of my scripts are period pieces, stories set in the past. This is in part an attempt to mirror the present: to show an evolution, a lineage, or a stagnancy.
Most of this process is reflective— what are stories in my experience that stick out, and why? What are stories that I have enjoyed reading or retelling, mine or another’s? At the heart of it is something relatable and real. Only then can we laugh, cry, worry, and cheer on our characters. In some respects, I see everything I write as a loose, modernized adaptation or interpretation of stories that stay with me This may be because the story itself is pleasurable (family matters, professional foibles, love) and merits retelling. Or sometimes the stories come back to me because the subject matter is haunting and disturbing, and I see repeating patterns of it in my world and the world at-large. Why do we keep doing x?— and there is the idea.
Empathy is my impetus for storytelling. When it is difficult to understand a person’s actions, meditation into who this person is leads to ideation. What would drive a person to cook meth, or shore up a wildly dysfunctional family, or carry a stranger’s child, or live in an otherworldly world— these all come back to Point A, the character.
I’m very grateful for my CBS mentors, as they have encouraged me to be both reflective and true in developing ideas for my original television pilot. They want the eye to be constantly moving, but also exacting. They make sure I don’t miss a beat (character or narrative). I learned that in breaking down a character (and breaking down some more), there could I build up ideas of the world. I must know the character of my idea down to his or her atom or Adam. Only from there can the rest of the world take form.