How To Write Authentic Characters And Dialogue – Corey Mandell

How To Write Authentic Characters And Dialogue – Corey Mandell


Film Courage: We took a break for a moment and
off-camera you said something about character and dialogue and how you help
your students and how in some ways a lot of it…they’re the same thing? Corey Mandell, Screenwriter/Instructor: In some
ways yeah. And I talked about this sort of more globally in the creative
integration video that people can go back that I did for you guys a couple
years ago I’ll I’ll I’ll give a little more specific so there’s a little more
specifics on the intuitive training and and there’ll be a practical test that
people can take at the end to see where they’re at sort of so when I work with
someone especially someone who needs to improve on their characters and dialogue
and I’m going to short-stroke this a little bit because you can go back to
the creative integration video for a full explanation of the conceptual in
the intuitive but often that the conceptual brain is very focused on what
other people think fear of rejection want it to be good and it’s controlling
and that can be helpful and and there’s certainly when we’re doing story
designing we wanted design stories don’t even really engaging other people we
want to be aware of how people are seeing our scripts so the conceptual
brain is a really important part in this but the intuitive brain is where our
authenticity comes from our emotional authenticity and the intuitive brain
doesn’t have a past present or a future just hasn’t now and so the first part of
what I’m working with someone to get them better at characters and or
dialogue the first thing is to train them through practic ated practice to
build to turn off the conceptual brain and just work from a pure intuitive
space and the metaphor I would give them is imagine sounds crazy but you ride
your horse to work so that’s how you get to work and you have to get to work in
half an hour and your horse likes to wander and wants to go grazing and look
at waterfalls but you have to control the horse because you got to get to work
and you make sure that your horse gets you to work in half an hour and this
metaphor you the writer or the conceptual brain and the horse is the
intuitive part of it and so the first thing is to release and
surrender control to the horse and let the horse go wherever the horse wants to
go and don’t control it and don’t even judge it it’s almost like you just get
off the horse and this you know for this day the horse can do whatever it wants
and so training people and this this is the hardest part of the training and it
can take weeks it can take a month or two but it’s literally learning how to
just get a prompt and just immediately start writing without any ideas of story
without any control without any editing it’s just letting that intuitive
instinct take over and just go wherever it goes and it’s like it’s like a dream
in that it doesn’t have to be logical it doesn’t have to be interesting it’s just
has to be authentic and real and really stressed non-performance writing
no one’s gonna read this so to warm up by people do journaling they’ll journal
for fifteen or twenty minutes because when we’re journaling especially if no
one reads our journals what do we navigate toward we’re not trying to be a
good writer or interesting writer we’re just trying to navigate towards the
truth you know trying to find our truth or exploring a topic or just trying to
maybe just writing about how we feel and that’s non-performance writing you know
as opposed to when we fire up final draft or whatever software we use it’s
like I’m gonna write something and people are gonna read it and they’re
gonna judge it and they’re by by default they’re gonna judge me or certainly it
feels that way so this first level of training is
learning how to turn off the conceptual brain and literally it’s like
trance-like writing you you eventually get to the place where you could do this
for 20 minutes 30 minutes 45 minutes and when you’re done you don’t even remember
what you wrote it’s just completely authentic intuitive lead writing so
that’s the first step I mean that’s not getting you to great characters in
dialogue but that’s the first step on the journey would to use another
metaphor I would say it’s like if I was teaching someone yoga but they couldn’t
they were so non limber that get down to the floor this first phase
is just getting down to the floor it’s not actual yoga but it’s getting some
ones they can get down to the floor so that’s the first phase and it’s the
hardest phase for most writers so when they can get to a point where they can
write no judging no editing completely intuitive surrender control of the horse
and just trance-like writing then we go to the second phase and the second phase
is I’m going to teach them how to write from a really really provocative
emotional feeling an autobiographical event like the best most one you know
when their child was born or when their father died I mean we’re talking like
primal moments and I’m gonna train them how to write in a way where they let the
feeling that they’re feeling this emotion leave the writing and they’re
gonna do it to the point and keep practicing until myself or someone else
when they read these pages they can feel what the writer felt so they can they
can it’s a now and energy transference and emotional transference to be able to
really engage us with characters and dialogue you’re gonna have to be able to
do this now there are people listening to this who don’t need any training to
do this they are very deep intuitive’s they they absolutely can do this right
now without any training but there are people that need structured training to
get to this point where they can let go of their control ego-mind work from a
pure intuitive space and write in a way where people can feel what they feel
then we go to phase 3 and in phase 3 there’s techniques to start to discover
actual characters and you interview these characters you spend time with
these characters and there’s a bunch of play exercises till the character will
take over and will happen is you can start writing and you put the character
in some situation and they just do what they would do and they just say what
they would say and they are driving it you’re not you have no agenda now maybe
what the character is doing or saying isn’t particularly interesting might not
make for story but the character is doing what
they do insane what they would say then the next phase is learning how to write
where what the character is feeling the reader can feel so now we can
emotionally bond and connect with the character we can feel what they’re
feeling that’s really powerful and again some writers naturally do this and some
writers naturally don’t do anything close this but through this training
they can get there then the next phase is we will find another character that
they spend time do this training with so they’ll eventually have two characters
that they always know what that character would do they always know what
that character would say and they have they have surrender control to the
characters we’ll put the characters in a certain situation a certain basic
conflict and they very slowly will go back and forth writing it from inside
each character so this character would do that what with this character do whoa
a dis character is a response and now the characters are creating what happens
now again maybe what’s happening is really compelling and riveting maybe
it’s not maybe it’s really boring it doesn’t matter it’s the characters doing
what the characters would do in interaction with each other and so
ultimately and here’s something that someone can do right now if they want to
test their ability this is where I would say someone comes out the other end
earning their intuitive merit badge so to speak which is so ultimately where we
want to get to is organic story structure which is a it’s a term that’s
used a lot but not often really understood so the way I would define it
is organic means everything the characters do it feels like they would
really do it everything the character says feels like they would really say it
there’s never a moment where you see the hand of the writer there’s never a
moment where fills in organics there’s never a moment where a character is
doing a preordained plot point or a character’s doing something or saying
something because the writer wanted them to do they’re saying this to drive the
story forward a certain way that’s organic
story structure means everything that’s happening is the most compelling choice
from a story point of view and the story keeps getting more and more interesting
it’s really hard for writers to do both to do organic story structure because in
the best scripts the the scripts that can change or writers life you read the
script and you never see a hand never see the hand the writer it never feels
inorganic it just feels like these characters these are real people they’ll
have a unique voice they’re all saying what they would say they’re all doing
what they would do and it’s never boring it is just captivating ly interesting it
gets more and more interesting that’s the Holy Grail when a writer can do that
they are the needle in the haystack that the industry is looking for everyone
will want to meet that writer and work with that writer so the first step I
would tell people and this is what we’re talking about this question is the
organic so let’s take story structure off the table excuse me so with organic
what I would tell someone is this is how we know you’ve successfully come you
successfully come through the end of this training or sometimes writers will
come to me and I’m like you seem like you really strong intuitive skill sets
maybe you don’t need to do this training let’s test where you’re at so this is
what I would have them do I would have them take two or three characters that
they know they love these characters these characters have unique voices they
know exactly what these characters would do or say and we’re gonna put them into
a conflict a situation and they’re gonna write it doesn’t it’s not going to be a
full scripts not going to be a whole pilot or a future we don’t need to do
that let’s say 25 pages and what I tasks the writer with doing is just let the
characters do whatever they would do and say whatever they would say don’t worry
if it’s interesting don’t worry about you know context and it being funny or
dramatic it could be boring it just has to be completely organic and when you’re
done we’re gonna take these 25 pages and we’re gonna give it to five or six
people that you trust and you’re gonna give each of them a red marker and
you’re going to explain what you did you’re gonna say I know this sounds
crazy but I don’t care if what you’re reading is interesting I don’t care if
it’s boring I don’t care if it’s illogical all I care about is it 100%
organic do all the characters speak with the unique voice do the characters all
the time feel like they’re doing what they would really do saying what they
would really say if there’s ever a moment where you’re like I’m not sure I
believe the character would have said that I don’t know if the character was
motivated to say that or felt little force that they did that or felt like
you were controlling or any of that market circle with red put a red mark on
it it’s okay again it’s completely boring we’re going for organic and if
you get the seven drops back without any red lines you have your intuitive merit
badge which means you are capable of organic now you’re not going to take
those 25 pages and go out to the marketplace with it but you can do
organic then and this is this would be a longer conversation for another day then
you have to train yourself on story structure and then it’s a matter of
putting the two together to have organic story structure but in terms of
character and dialogue going through those stages and coming out where you
can be fully organic is a huge move forward because now when someone reads
your script they’re gonna feel like these are real people and the dialogue
is gonna feel real and these characters are going to have emotional in our lives
and we’re going to believe each of the characters that’s the first part then
when you can do that integrated with story design with story structure then
you get to those magical scripts where everything is organic and authentic and
it the story is absolutely grabs our attention holds our attention and
delivers us somewhere that exceeds our expectations and I have seen the
challenge that a lot of people make as they try to learn to do all of that at
once and it’s really difficult it’s like you know trying to Bowl when you have
that 10 4 split the two pins are as far apart and if you try to with one ball
knocked both pins down usually do so what I
trained people to do is just focus on organic just be able to nail that then
sort of the peek in how I trained writers and the workshops will also
train people to just do story structure with like puppets it can be inorganic
where you know how to design the most compelling story even if it’s completely
inorganic and feels like you’re controlling the characters that’s ok
we’re not going to take that and show it to anyone in the industry this is all
training but then when you can do story structure and then you can do organic or
you can do organic and then you can do story structure then I can teach you how
to put the two together where they integrate so I always teach these
separately you

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  1. 8:12 & 11:16 Organic writing. He speaks of, in novel writing terms, pantsing vs. plotting (and writing prompt exercises to warm up a writer's pantsing skills). Take home message…. Follow structure, but make it seem like natural dialogue and actions from the character(s). Some people function well with pantsing and some do not; i.e. they need more structure to tell the story. However, I think it is important to make the characters sound and act as if they are real, rounded characters.

  2. It is difficult to write characters who have a different thought process. I have a friend who is pretty functional, but lacks social intelligence. He just blurts out whatever's on his mind. Making a character sound like that is not easy, because it's going against a lifetime of training and experience you, yourself, has. Yet that is certainly authentic.

    We all inculcate the norms of our culture, and fashioning a character with a radically different mindset is extraordinarily difficult. I think the only saving grace is that if you write about a familiar place, like Western societies, everyone pretty much has at least been exposed to the same basic societial structure, so there is not a terribly wide variety of possible reactions to situations that arise. That makes writing different cultures much more difficult. Not impossible, certainly, but much more work and research involved.

  3. Never thought about learning structure and organic writting separately. But it makes sense, since stories are about giving some true feelings, and the structure changes with time. I dont know. I have to think about it. Thats interesting

  4. I appreciate the emphasis on being genuine and to allow thoughts to flow intuitively. However, I wish the video matched the title more clearly, with how to actually produce quality dialogue instead of simply leaving it up to free flowing thoughts. Maybe that's a great point that's needed, especially if many writers are trapped by preconceived notions of what a story or character ought to be, such as feeling compelled to adhere to a certain plot structure or archetype. I think we need to remember the importance of the individual and write each character as though they were actually a living human being encountering a certain set of circumstances and interacting and reacting to them. He basically said to be organic and of course that's the goal, but his recommendation is a bit vague and I wish there were more practical tips on how to formulate dynamic and authentic discourse. Still, always appreciate your helpful videos, thanks so much!

  5. Cory’s passion to teach great storytelling is an excellent example on how writers must dare to go deep into their heart and soul to entertain. Thank you Cory and Film Courage 🥰

  6. What producers from major studios have told be that a lot of writers do is change the voice of the characters. If the character is intelligent then keep them intelligent. The structure depends on your approach. Don't over think it. If it's Action then the hero is saving the world or the girl, if Romantic then they are trying to find love or help it. Above all research and try to be somewhat original.

  7. Yeah, I'd agree story structures and authentic or organic character developments are definitely different subjects… Being able to act or create organically is a far cry from what we consider structure… As soon as you start speaking to structure (for one thing) the immediate imagery in mind is something crystalline, latticeworked, engineered…
    When you think "organic" it's probably more like the weird curls and waves and rounds that you'd find in a tree, an animal, or a human body… even if it has structure to it, the organic ideal is kind of "naturally all over the place".

    Being a GM, Characters aren't that difficult… (okay, 30+ years of them prob'ly makes a difference)… BUT in about a page of college rule notebook paper, I can have a reasonable profile to work with… Everything from the obvious physical (height, weight, hair, eyes, scars/tattoos) to figurative Stat's for numerical representations of limits (Strength, Dexterity, Health, IQ, etc…) and some psychological, aspects… maybe bad tempered, or a bestial atavism, and maybe a code of honor, or ethical attribute… Don't forget the skills, each also with some numerical value. (You can't work with dice in a game without those numbers and probability)…

    AND at the onset of the actual Game, we (as Players) develop and explore our Characters… interact with each other, and figure out backstories… and all that…

    Some Players are a bit more skilled, experienced, or just clever about creating alternative personalities than others… "adding voices" or accents, even speech impediments to their Characters… and changing things around. Others often seem like "cookie cutters" stamped out with different listings and numbers from one to the next, but no different personality-wise… and it shows.

    In RPG's however, there is as close to "absolutely zero" story structure as you can find… The whole of a Campaign can last years… and from the beginning to the end of the game, the grandest reveal, and final "Nemesis" for the group, and the fallout of the final battle are often so far removed you'd be hopeless at trying to guess where we were going or how we'd get there from where it all started…

    I once ran a two year War Campaign… With three friends who created military careers, became nobles in their conquests, and eventually were integral part of an Evil Empire being overturned…

    …and their whole intent against this Emperor, his Empire, and the War Campaign all together was hinged upon and started over "Not getting proper wheat rolls with ONE Character's spaghetti…"

    These were (point of FACT) truly connected action and consequence… from "No rolls for the spaghetti" to "Crush the empire"… I want you to think seriously about that… just for a moment, how far off the figurative rails something goes, to get from the first, to the end…

    In the midst, there are such highlights, as rescuing a heroic former teacher from slavery by fighting her in the pits (think gladiatorial)… Jumping (on purpose) into the maw of giant monstrous beasts in the very plan that killed them (yes, more than once)… Rescuing a unicorn from a Demon, who'd "used" a virgin daughter of a wild-elven chief to capture it for sacrifice… and meeting a true to life Great Elder Dragon-Lord… Wandering about the Underdark a bit to rescue and then marry a drow princess who was "too gentle for the Underdark"… and a litany of others that read more like just "wandering the land to make messes" than anything that would tie together to "fixing the lack of wheat for rolls" or "taking on the Empire"…

    That's the weird thing about RPG's though… They are remarkably organic (unless the Party gets "railroaded" into module storylines) but structure… erm… A Plotline for an RPG Campaign tends to look more like spaghetti hurled at the wall than what you'd recommend in a class. ;o)

  8. Every day of my life I will pay tribute to Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant in my current hometown of Mekor Hayim Baka Jerusalem Israel in every way I can through the Mamba Mentality and I will win my Oscar in the memory of Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant

  9. CLUTCH

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    Dribbling to greatness and striving to reach your fullest potential is being clutch.

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    Drain your clutch game-clinching shots. The basketball shots you take inspires.

  10. I cannot recall what Corey said to put my head in the zone, but a possible fix to a tabled problem occurred while I listened. I need to make my story smaller, geographically speaking. Thanks, Corey and Film Courage.

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