04 Jun 2012 TimothyNargi

Writing Believable Characters Without Sinning

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Regent University Adult Education Theater PerformancesOne of the arguments against Christian films has been that characters are not believable because they don’t swear or do drugs or cheat on their spouse. Christians won’t write these things into their scripts because the act of portraying the sin is a sin itself. But people really do talk like that, and to ignore that fact means creating fake characters. So how do you write believable characters who do sin, without sinning yourself? I posed this question in one of my film theory classes. After some discussion and reflection, here is my answer.

First, you need to set your boundaries. Here are some of my personal ones for a guideline on how I write. Frankly, writing swearing into a script or writing a sex scene is more than a sin for me, but those actors who have to act out those scenes are also committing a sin. This also goes against one of my guidelines – I will not knowingly portray any act, speech or gesture in a manner that will entice impure thoughts or encourage immoral action. Knowing your boundaries will determine what you will write and what you won’t write.

Once you set those, how do you portray real characters? How do you write about a biker who doesn’t swear? Well, I would ask this question – if things are so real, why don’t we ever see characters going to the bathroom? Never saw Jack Bauer do it. Why don’t we ever see people cleaning their house? Because it’s a movie, it isn’t real in the first place, and as an audience we maintain a suspension of disbelief. So your character doesn’t have to swear just because real-life bikers swear. What it means, though, is you have a tougher job in writing. You must figure out another way to portray your character’s personality. It makes for challenging writing, but your character will be far more interesting and developed than those who depend on swearing to portray character.

Another way to portray sin is to remember that it doesn’t have to be shown. It can be heard or heard about and characters reactions can be shown instead. You can show the aftermath of adultery, the broken family, without showing the adulterous act itself. The sound of a murder or rape can be heard from behind closed doors, it doesn’t need to be visually depicted. As producer Roger Corman, states:

“The scariest shot in all of movies is the camera approaching a closed door, that you know somebody’s got to open it. The anticipation is much scarier than anything, it’s the most terrifying shot in the movie, it’s not expensive, it’s not special effects.”

Depicting real characters that aren’t “fake” without sinning yourself is easier said than done, but it just means you have to work harder and be more creative than the other guy.

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Timothy Nargi

MFA in Screenwriting

Online Student

Woodbridge, VA

Find me playing ice hockey (go Rangers!), kayaking, or visiting historical sites with my wife. I believe film and sports can be an excellent platform for setting an example on how to live like Christ and for Christ.

One Response to “Writing Believable Characters Without Sinning”

  1. Reply Ian James says:

    Come to think of it, it is very rare Jack Bauer swears in 24, because it is on network television. Same in Criminal Minds, The Following, ect.
    You can make the point without an f bomb, every other word. They did it all the way through John Wayne movies, they can do it now. You also can write Great love scenes, without showing a thing! The imagination fills in the rest.

    Lazy writing, makes for allot of swearing, and sex

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