Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: June 2015

Top Ten Tips for Writing Memorable Minor Characters (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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Top Ten Tips for Writing Memorable Minor Characters

by Susan Kouguell

Film industry folks are always looking for compelling and  attention-grabbing protagonists and antagonists in a well-crafted screenplay. That, fellow screenwriters, is not really ground-breaking news, but there is a consistent grievance that echoes the halls of studios and production companies throughout the land. Actually, it’s a consistent complaint. It’s all about those ignored minor characters also known as supporting characters.
The complaints go something like this: “These characters are dull, interchangeable, one-dimensional, predictable, stereotypical…”
What happens next? The screenplay is rejected. The writer is not considered for writing assignments. It’s a sad day in screenplay land.
Supporting characters can and should be memorable. For example: In All About Eve, (written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) minor character Birdie Coonan helps to propel the narrative forward by expressing her doubts about antagonist Eve Harrington’s intentions to protagonist Margo Channing. Birdie Coonan is memorable because she is also distinct; she’s direct and doesn’t mince words.
In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I analyze Betty, a memorable minor character and her arc in Five Easy Pieces directed by Bob Rafelson, screenplay by Adrien Joyce.
In this film, protagonist Bobby Dupea abandoned his promising career as a concert pianist and now works as an oil rigger in the California oil fields. After hearing from his sister that his father is dying, Bobby returns to his wealthy, cultured family’s Washington home where he attempts to reconcile with his father, falls for his brother’s sophisticated wife, and later abandons his brash but well-meaning live-in girlfriend, Rayette.
Betty, a minor character, who appears in only three scenes, advances the narrative by providing subtle insights about Bobby. (This is also an example of the rule of threes. This rule can be applied to a specific action that occurs at three different times during the film or to a character, who appears three times in the film. In the rule of threes, the third time the action or dialogue is seen or heard again, there is a variation from the first two times.)

'Five Easy Pieces'


Betty’s First Scene: The Set Up
Betty and her friend, Twinky, meet and flirt with Bobby in the bowling alley where they are playing in an adjacent lane. During Betty and Bobby’s dialogue exchange, Betty reveals that she has taken on a new identity separate from her childhood when she tells him that her real name is Shirley but she is called Betty: (Like Bobby, she has taken on a new identity separate from her childhood.) Although Bobby’s girlfriend, Rayette, is waiting for him outside in their car, Bobby flirts back. Betty’s new identity is a significant clue to Bobby’s character; he is portrayed as a working-class guy, but in fact, his family is wealthy, and was a concert pianist.

Betty’s Second Scene: The Build
Singing and partying with another couple, Betty, bouncing on Bobby’s lap, recounts a childhood incident with her mother, which also foreshadows Bobby’s estranged and complicated relationship with his father. 

Betty’s Third Scene: The Resolution
Betty and Bobby have no dialogue while they have sex. Bobby is seen being unfaithful to Rayette, which shows rather than tells the audience about his character. It also sets up Bobby’s infidelity when he later returns to his family’s home and has an affair with his brother’s wife while Rayette is waiting for him in the motel.

Top Ten Memorable Minor Character Tips

  1. Use minor characters to propel your plot forward.
  2. Minor characters can act as a sounding board, a mirror to the protagonist’s soul, and/or knowingly or unknowingly assist your protagonist in achieving his or her goal.
  3. Minor characters can help advance the protagonist’s storyline forward, reveal information, and/or give additional insight about major characters, including back-story, which will help you to avoid writing exposition.
  4. Use minor characters to assist in creating or reinforcing the mood and tone of your script, and to give color to the world you have created.
  5. Utilize minor characters to further reveal the atmosphere and era of your setting.
  6. Minor characters can bring a different perspective to your story.
  7. Minor characters can prevent your protagonist from running away from a problem or encourage your protagonist not to run away.
  8. Take advantage of your minor characters by having them provide insight into your main characters’ storylines.
  9. Minor characters’ behaviors, attitudes and idiosyncrasies, will help to set the tone of a scene.
  10. Each minor character in your screenplay must serve a purpose, otherwise cut them.

Take the time to develop your minor characters as you do your major characters. Don’t give film industry executives more to complain about!



Top Ten Tips for Creating Winning Characters (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Top Ten Tips for Creating Winning Characters

Here is an excerpt from my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!:


Story generates plot; it informs what the narrative is about. The plot informs how the story unfolds. And it is your riveting characters who must inform and drive your plot forward.


Who will live? Who will die? How will they survive?

Who will win? Who will lose? How will they win? How will they lose?

Who will succeed? Who will fail? How will they succeed? How will they fail?

Who will find love? How will they find love?

These aforementioned generic movie taglines, emphasize the significant word “who”— your characters.

To create a believable and compelling plot, your characters must be fleshed out and their distinct characterizations (motivations, behavior, attitudes, and so on), must be gripping and plausible in order to drive the plot forward. When you try to get characters to do what the plot determines, then your characters’ actions, behaviors, and motivations will not be realistic, and they will read as false and contrived.

'Forrest Gump'

Top Ten Tips for Creating Characters

1. EMPATHY: Film industry folks demand characters with whom they can empathize. If they don’t care about your characters, they won’t care about your script and in turn, you have increased your chances of screenplay rejection.

2. GOALS: Convey what your characters’ want and how far they will go to achieve their goals.

3. CONFLICT: Regardless of the genre you are working in and whether your characters are having an inner discord or disputes with others, their conflicts must make sense and must be interesting, in order to raise the stakes in your plot.

4. REASON TO EXIST: Each character must serve a purpose in your script and advance the narrative in some way otherwise you must say “good-bye” and cut this character.

5. UNIQUE: Characters must be unique with distinctive and/or surprising personalities. If they are interchangeable with other characters, then it’s time to rewrite your script.

6. MAKE THEM HUMAN: Unless your characters are nonhuman of course – humanize your characters by giving them identifiable appearances and idiosyncrasies.

7. MOTIVATIONS: Characters must have clear and plausible motivations that give insight into who they are and the actions they take.

8. BEHAVIOR: Whether your characters misbehave or are always on good behavior, your need to convey their specific emotional, mental, physical, and/or social behaviors and traits.

9. ATTITUDE: Characters must have specific attitudes towards each other. Show how your characters view themselves, relate to others or don’t fit in.

10. FLAWS: Characters’ flaws, such as insecurities, make them more identifiable and interesting.


Yvonne Rainer


Yvonne Rainer Performance June 14 2015 001Thank you, Yvonne Rainer, for an inspirational evening. at MoMA

I am so grateful to have studied with Yvonne at the Whitney Independent Study Program.   Yvonne made an enormous difference in my life as a writer, filmmaker, and woman artist.   I am so fortunate to have been able to tell her this once again last night.



Sir Christopher Lee

Remembering Sir Christopher Lee


Sir Christopher Lee honored at 2013 Locarno International Film Festival





The opening night of the Festival on August 7 dramatically began under a lightening-filled sky in the Piazza Grande, where Sir Christopher Lee received the Excellence Award Moët & Chandon.  Film stills of Sir Christopher’s roles were projected on the buildings surrounding the Piazza.  Accepting his award, the charismatic Sir Christopher spoke mostly in Italian, stating his mother was from Italy — and then switched to English.

Sir Christopher’s most loved line of the night, “I did it. That was me doing the sword fights with Yoda, not a stunt double.” The audience cheered!



The Satisfying Scene


The Satisfying Scene

Scenes must have a reason to exist in your screenplay. Each scene must advance the plot forward through dialogue and/or visual storytelling.  Characters’ journeys drive the script’s narrative, and each scene must steer their journey forward.  Although some scenes might not even contain any characters, these scenes must still provide information about your plot, as well as your characters’ lives and actions. There is no set rule as to how many lines, paragraphs, or pages constitute a scene.

In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I analyze Sleepless in Seattle (directed by Nora Ephron, screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, and Jeff Arch).  Here’s an excerpt:

In the romantic comedy, reporter Annie Reed crosses the country to meet a man she has never met after hearing his young son on a call-in radio show, seeking help to find a new wife for his widowed father.

In this scene example we find Annie and Barbara, having a warm mother/daughter talk in the attic.

The Scene Objective:

Annie starts reexamining her feelings about Walter.

Scene Summary:

While trying on her grandmother’s wedding dress, the newly engaged Annie tells her mother, Barbara, about how she and her fiancé, Walter, met. Mother and daughter differ when it comes to believing in destiny, signs, and magic in a relationship—Barbara is a believer while Annie is a pragmatist. The scene concludes as Annie, wearing her grandmother’s wedding dress, hugs her mother and the dress rips. Annie now believes in signs.

The Scene Arc:

In the beginning of the scene, Annie doesn’t believe in destiny and expresses her certainty about her upcoming marriage to Walter. By the end of the scene, Annie is having some subtle doubts when she realizes that she doesn’t have the same type of magic with Walter that her mother felt for her father when they met, and Annie is beginning to believe in destiny.


About the Author

Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises (available at $1.00 with DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD: ).   Susan is a regular contributor to Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, Script Magazine and The Script Lab.

Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide.  Recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the MacDowell Colony, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Edward Albee Foundation, Kouguell’s short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.  Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, (Paramount, Viacom, Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions), wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: