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Script Tips: How Halloween Can Give You Insight into Your Character

By Professor Marilyn Horowitz

Halloween is coming up and one of my favorite exercises is to try to imagine what my characters would do if they had to attend a Halloween party.

'Mean Girls'

'Mean Girls'

I returned from presenting at a screenwriting conference one Saturday night a few years ago, and had to find my way home from Penn Station. I found myself on 8th Avenue and 34th Street at 11:30 p.m. and Halloween had already started. I passed young people dressed up in all manner of characters from the various superhero movies that had come out in recent years, including a Wolverine, a Green Lantern, several Supermen and, most striking to me, a Wicked Witch of the West.

Halloween is the one night of the year when we are allowed to take on the persona of someone completely different from ourselves and “get away with it.” For example, you often see people wearing sexy versions of different uniforms and others take on the persona of a vampire, zombie or demon.

The costume your character selects conveys an aspect of their true personality. So in this way, each of these teenagers was unconsciously projecting a hidden aspect of themselves. I doubt that the young woman dressed up as the Wicked Witch of the West was a villain. Rather her choice of costume was an expression of her identification with the particular character. If I were developing a new character for a screenplay or a book, I would make the choice that the young woman wearing this costume was dealing with a similar issue to the character in the movie The Wizard of Oz—the death of her sister. Of course, this is only my projection and in fact, the young woman may really be a “witch.” The point is that when we dress up on Halloween, it is not random—we are always expressing something about ourselves.

Here's the exercise:

Step number 1: Consider how you, the writer, spend your Halloween. Do you go trick-or-treating with your kids, do you go to a costume party, or do you ignore it altogether? By observing what you do, you can easily compare your choices, with those of your character.

Step number 2: Now get a mental picture of your main character, and imagine what costume they would wear if they were attending a party. If your first thought is that, “My character would never go to a party,” you have already learned a great deal about your character. But for this exercise, your character must attend the party whether they go in costume or not.

Step number 3: In the 3rd person write for 10 minutes, describing your characters experience of going to a Halloween party.

This exercise will stimulate your imagination and perhaps even offer the opportunity to write a great scene that might actually appear in your screenplay.

Good luck and Happy Writing!

Marilyn Horowitz

Copyright 2013 Marilyn Horowitz. All rights reserved.

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