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New Year's Resolutions for Your Main Character and You

By Marilyn Horowitz

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It was hard to decide what should be the last tip of this year, and the subject of New Year’s resolutions seemed to be the most pressing issue. 

While not everyone believes in making plans in this way, I feel it’s almost a magical process, and must be done. I need to take stock of the year that has just passed and think about what I want in the future.  There were some triumphs, and some crushing disappointments – I always use wherever I am personally as a baseline for designing new characters and then turn my thoughts to discovering what my characters would do in the same situation.

To my dismay, I realized that I didn’t know my characters well enough to imagine what process of review they would go through, if any.

In the film When Harry Met Sally, Harry’s realization that this is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with propels him to take action, this is his New Year’s resolution: get the girl of his dreams.  Harry and Sally have previously arranged that if they are both alone on New Year’s Eve, they will spend it together at a certain place.  He has treated her badly, and will probably never get another chance to win her if he doesn’t make a move now.

Inspired by the character of Harry, I tried to imagine what my new characters would go through – would they even think about making New Year’s Resolutions, or claim the love of their life? One of my characters loves Christmas and all of the pageantry and is sad when New Year’s Eve comes because it signals the end of the holiday season.  The other hates the holiday season and states bluntly that her only resolution is to get through the holidays without murdering anyone!

How did my characters get to be so different than their creator? While the answer to that is a much larger question, we can answer a more useful question: How did knowing myself well help me to understand my imaginary characters so easily?

The trick is to understand human nature: while it’s hard for us to know what we want, it’s extremely easy for us to know what we don’t want.  If we are willing to accept that we, the screenwriter, are a secret character in everything we write, we can then ask ourselves what we would do in the circumstances, and then simply compare our actions with those of our main characters.  Would our characters do what we do, and if not – what action would they take?

Here’s the exercise:

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Each of the next 3 steps will take 5 minutes.

Step 1:  Write about your feelings about New Year’s Resolutions and make any you want to.

Step 2:  Writing in the first person as if you were your main character, write about feelings and resolutions.

Step 3: Writing in the first person as if you were your Villain or Obstacle, write about feelings and resolutions.

Put the work away. Later reread what you’ve written, and you will gain valuable insights about your characters, and perhaps have made a couple of good resolutions on the way.

Happy New Year!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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