Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: July 2014

Susan’s ScriptLab article: The 14 Vital Points for Outlining Characters


Readers must have a clear understanding of who your characters are and the reasons why they take the actions they do in your screenplay; otherwise your script will be rejected.

Successful characters are multi-dimensional with distinctive physical attributes, emotional traits, appearances, personalities, intelligence, vulnerabilities, emotions, attitudes, idiosyncrasies, a sense of humor or prevailing despair, secrets, and hopes and dreams. Writing solid and memorable characters also means digging deep into their past and present.

There are several ways in which to delve into characters, such as writing character bios in the character’s voice.  (I offer various templates and examples in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!).  Use whichever exercise works best for you.  The bottom line is that you must know your characters inside and out.

The 14 Vital Points to Address in Your Character Outline

The following points to address for each of your main characters and for your significant supporting characters:

1.     Character Arcs:  How do my characters evolve in the beginning, middle, and end of the script, as they attempt to achieve their goals?

2.     Journeys:  What do my characters learn about themselves and others, and what do my characters gain or lose, as the plot unfolds?

3.     Multi-dimensional:  What are my characters specific emotional, mental, physical, and/or social behaviors and traits? How do my characters see themselves and how do they relate to others?

4.     Empathy: What elements make my characters likeable and unlikable?

5.     Goals: What are my characters main goals and why are these goals important? How do my characters plan to achieve these goals?

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Susan’s Screenwriters Utopia piece: David Cronenberg, Subplots, and Plot Twists

On a recent trip to Amsterdam to the EYE (national museum of film)  I visited the major exhibition of director David Cronenberg’s work. One section, featuring clips and information about his film, A History of Violence, reminded me of this powerful work that I also referenced in my book, Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! – specifically in the chapters in which I discuss subplots and plot twists.

TOM STALL In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!

JACK STALL No, in this family, we shoot them!

Tom slaps his teenage son, Jack.

In A History of Violence (screenplay by Josh Olson), family man and small town Indiana diner owner, Tom Stall, becomes a local yet reluctant hero after he shoots two thugs, who attempt to rob him.  National news coverage of this event prompts the arrival of Fogarty and his two henchmen from Philadelphia to confront Tom.

Plot twists can be illustrated through character revelations; who they truly are and what they are capable of doing for survival, loyalty, love, and so on, or during the story when an unexpected event occurs. In the case of this film, the plot twist unfolds when it is revealed that Tom Stall is not only Joey Cusack, an ex-killer from Philadelphia—but he has kept his true identity secret for twenty-years from his wife and their two children. Hence the title A History of Violence — the underlying meaning for Tom Stall centers on his own personal history of violence.

There is nothing more satisfying to an audience when they are taken by surprise, but plot twists should be true to your story and not tacked on just for the shock element.

To read more:

My latest article:

Susan’s July Ask the Screenplay Doctor column: Twenty Questions: Are you *really* ready to submit your screenplay?

Questions, courtesy of

Whether you are a first-time or professional screenwriter, the thrill of finally completing a screenplay is the same – absolute euphoria! But, let’s be honest for a moment and ask yourself the tough question: Is your screenplay really finished?  Are you ready to submit it to the world because you are so tired of thinking and dreaming about it and believe that it’s “good enough” despite knowing another rewrite (or possibly two or more) is needed?   If your answer is yes, then know that you are not alone.

What should you do next? Take a deep breath. And slowly exhale.  If you are tired, bored, frustrated, or (fill in the adjective) of your screenplay—so will the agent, manager, producer, script competition reader, and all the film industry folks to whom you are submitting your project.

Before you submit your screenplay, get feedback from people who will tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. Giving it to people who might sugarcoat their critiques, such as family members, most likely want to remain on good terms with you, so this is probably not your best choice. Knowing what to ask when receiving feedback will help you stay focused and enable you to gain more objectivity with your screenplay.

20 Questions to Ask When Receiving Feedback

1. Is the genre clear and consistent throughout the script?

2. Does the dialogue ring true for each of my characters or does it feel interchangeable?

3. Is this script a page-turner?

4. Are my characters empathetic?

5. Does my plot make sense?

6. Are my main characters’ journeys clear?

7. What elements made the story engaging? Were there places you lost interest?

8. Do any of the characters need to be further developed?

9. Are there scenes that drag or ramble?

10. Is each scene advancing the plot forward?

To read more: