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 Story development 2 - planning phase for Wife For Sale

Story and page copyright © 1997, Dorian Scott Cole
Previous copyrights apply

Advanced topics on this page: |Has characterization succeeded? |From characterization comes: |The concept revisited

Planning 2 - characterization 

What characterization must achieve: Characterization must create motives that conflict and create the conditions for the plot and subplot, and create the spoiler character. 

The first thing I do with characters is to try to develop a character set that will work well with the story I have in mind. If I want a character with certain characteristics, I identify the things that would create that kind of character. When I have a fully defined character, I know exactly how that character will respond to things the other characters throw at him. (In contrast, characters who are invented with only one dimension, or who have no dimensions but just react at the writers whim, usually appear phony, shallow, and inconsistent). 

I try to create several meaningful things about a character. Who were the major people in his life who influenced him? What were the major events in his life that influenced him? These influences aren't the typical things like marrying and having children - things that were instigated by the character (although they could be). These are often things that are from outside the character's discretion, but could be something like a hobby that the character started then advanced to a high degree. I always include parents because they typically have a major influence on the character. Keep in mind, an influence can be good or bad - can create good traits or bad. Fears and attitudes, likes and dislikes can be very helpful in the story. 

Character Sketch - Bob & Julie Windsor 

Bob's father was a businessman who ran his family like a business. He had a chart in Bob's room showing his career path for becoming a successful "slumlord," a real estate millionaire, which was his father's passion. On Bob's desk was a development strategy for Bob in book form. His father reviewed the book on a weekly basis and advised Bob on his development. All of Bob's life was charted and regulated to the point that he had no time to do what he wanted to do. His life was strictly goal and achievement oriented. 

Bob was involved in most of the sports activities that young adults are in. They were the only times that he was away from his father and his planning. The youth activity that Bob liked especially well was Scouting. The Scouts would leave the town for a weekend, or a week in summer, and except for organized activities Bob was free to do what he wanted. He never asked his father to come along, never told him what a merit badge was, and always hid his Scouting paraphernalia at home. Scouting was his private world. He made Eagle Scout without ever planning or trying. He just went with the flow and did it.

Bob's mother was quiet and unassuming. Her temperament made it easy for her to get along with her husband. Whatever he wanted, she did. She placed no demands on Bob and let him do whatever he wanted. If he got in trouble, she quietly got him out. She never had a bad word for anyone. Bob admired her. In personality, he took after her. 

When Bob left for college, he abruptly changed course and majored in computer science, with a minor in TV. He learned how to engineer and how to direct. He vowed never to follow a plan again. Bob refuses to even consider setting any career goals in his life, preferring to live for the moment and do whatever he wants to do. 

Bob and Julie met in college and married their Junior summer. She worked to support them the last year of college when living together off campus became expensive. Her ability to plan and make things work kept them going, but Bob can't see that. The college placement office located a job for Bob in a small television station that wanted someone familiar with computers to do a project. The project involved creating special effects for a new locally produced program, and doing other responsibilities. When the director decided he didn't have time to work with it (he really didn't like the producer, Bob's boss) he gave the directing job to Bob. 

Julie's father and mother were relatively uneducated and just above poverty. He claimed to believe in hard work and discipline, but did or had little of either. He was a sports fan and a slob and spent most of his time at little league games, or sitting watching TV with a can of beer. He was verbally abusive to his wife and two daughters, playing the macho man and belittling all women. But since his actions didn't match his words, his family had little respect for him.

Julie's mother was determined to give her daughters an education and better way of life. Because of her father's belittling attitude toward women, Julie's mother also demanded perfection from her so her father could find nothing to complain about (he found things even if he had to make up something). Julie could never do anything perfectly to suit her mother - she always found some little thing wrong. Julie tried all the harder to get literally everything just exactly right. So in spite of their effort to give Julie a good life, Julie became unable to think well of herself because of them. She never looked for what was right about herself or anyone - she always looked for what was wrong and she always found something. Even when she returned to visit from college, she was branded "ungrateful and doing not near enough work for what it cost her poor parents to put her there." Julie is incapable of accepting herself or anyone. 

Julie will never judge herself "good enough." She will always expect criticism from others, and if she receives praise she thinks it is just words - praise doesn't find a home in her. She married Bob after rejecting many men who weren't perfect. Bob never criticized her, so she was able to accept him into her life. If Bob does criticize her, she immediately breaks into tears and becomes depressed. He can't win. Julie is also a very impatient person. She wants everything done now. There is a strong drive within her so that if anything isn't perfect it has to be fixed now. The only thing that will fix Julie is years of someone accepting her as impossible as she is. Or someone's acceptance of her in spite of a major imperfection. 

In Julie's life there was one person with whom she always felt comfortable. Janet was a woman in her forties who had difficulty speaking, and she was an assistant in the school athletic program. No one knew much about her because she had such difficulty communicating with junior high children - most of whom made fun of her. She helped Julie with dance. She never once had a critical word for Julie. Janet smiled at whatever Julie did, and patiently demonstrated how to do the folk dances until Julie got it right. Most of all Janet had fun, and her enthusiasm did find a home in Julie. Because of Janet, Julie loves to dance, and it is the only activity that Julie can do to feel free and be herself - completely accepted. No matter what dance she does, Julie feels completely free to make a fool of herself and just have fun. Bob doesn't dance. What Julie wants, more than anything, is for Bob to dance. But Bob isn't about to go on the dance floor and be subjected to one of Julie's critiques. He has no idea that Julie would not critique him on the dance floor.

When Julie married Bob, her parents disapproved of him, calling him a lazy jerk who never had an ambition in his life. She was crazy for supporting him. She should kick him in the pants and make him straighten up. She never lived up to expectations, so she became determined to succeed and live the life her parents gave her, but she could still never live up to the standard of life set before her. Everything had to be perfect, always. She needs constant reassurance and approval. Bob and Julie are a modern couple, into their own careers, very materialistic, interested in religion and the occult only because it's fashionable. He drives a sports car. He ordered it special (limited edition) from the factory, then had it customized by a specialty shop. She drives a Mercedes because it fits with the middle management types she works with. He works every other Saturday and she works late most evenings. They try to take turns cooking, but he does most of it, and is a gourmet. 

Bob is into designing computer peripherals, and worries about such things as how user friendly things are and the kinetics of using the equipment. Bob often has little to do on his job when they are between projects and is encouraged to start other projects. Since he refuses to do any planning, he has no idea where his projects are going and they usually go nowhere unless his boss sees their potential and takes charge. To relax, Bob designs cartoon characters that dance across the screen during ball games. They cheer, boo, and do other antics. He puts them on the monitors at the station, and on his TV at home, but not on the air.

What Bob would really like to do is get Julie to go to the beach with him and just walk along the beach and dig his toes in the sand and lean back and relax and do nothing for an entire weekend. But she isn't about to go unless it is planned and busy and perfect. Bob wants them to start investing in a vacation home on the beach, preferably on a deserted island, just a hut that the two of them build. Julie wants it to be close to somewhere busy, like New York City, or Virginia Beach, or Miami, and she wants an architect to plan it to the last detail with her at his arm.

Julie is an excellent project manager and gets a lot done in a hurry. She wants her marriage to get better right away - resolve the problem and get on to something else - or get out of the marriage. She can hardly stand it that her marriage is broken and can't be fixed immediately. Bob is analytical and deliberate. He analyzes things before he fixes them, trying to find the right answer and not make mistakes that will cause even greater problems. He takes the same approach to his marriage. But to Bob the temptation to find another woman is greater than his reasoning power. 

Julie prefers a one cocktail lunch, if she lunches at all. Bob prefers a hot-dog or sausage. Julie watches TV, Bob reads. Bob likes football and analyzes the moves. Julie hates sports - there is no object to them and they always make someone look bad - so she's impatient. Julie enjoys the thrill of cheating and the feeling of getting something over someone else. 

Bob likes competition if it's basically meaningless and no one really loses, like in sports. Julie likes power plays and power lunches. Bob likes to dress frumpy and impress no one. Julie won't leave the house unless she is immaculate. Julie gives money to her favorite charities: American Cancer Society and Muscular Dystrophy. Bob doesn't believe in charity, but he doesn't know why. Something about the way he was raised, his father never gave anything to anyone, and thought people who took from others were lazy and worthless. 

Julie works in advertising sales, selling to businesses in their city and two nearby towns. She works for a small ad agency. She took marketing in college, but not advertising, and took the first job that came available when she moved with Bob to their current home. (College was 200 miles away.) Julie has a comfortable group of accounts she visits regularly and hates cold calls, so doesn't develop the agency further. When she is done with her account visits, she is free to do as she pleases. 

Neither live within 500 miles of their parents or other relatives. Both sets of parents are alive and healthy, but their relationship with their parents is distant. When they are too close they argue too much. 

Bob and Julie are both protagonists and antagonists, but the story will be told mostly from Bob's point of view. The audience (hopefully) will identify with both and want them to resolve their differences. Both will do things that are "wrong." Both will do some very good things to help them get back together. In the end, after Julie's initiative fails to get them back together, Bob will take the final initiative to get them back together. This is a bit different from what I usually recommend (Who is going to drive?) which complicates audience identification. I infrequently follow what I recommend because I don't like relegating the female role to second place, as if that part is never important or as if women are never the instigators (drive the plot). 

What Bob discovers about himself, and finds the inner resources to do, is that he really loves Julie and it is better to be with her and put up with her cleaning and organizing fetishes than to not have her. Pragmatically, he can endure, he can even stand up to her if need be - it doesn't need to become a war.

What Julie discovers about herself, and finds the inner resources to deal with, is that someone can love her and want to be with her despite an imperfection. Bob coming back to her proves it to her. It is at that moment that she realizes she doesn't have to be perfect. And with that understanding, she can begin to overcome her neurotic behavior. She can accept criticism from Bob, she can leave the house not tidy, she can be a little disorganized - well that's pushing it...

CHARACTER SKETCH - Fast Freddie and Maggie (incomplete)

Fast Freddie is to be developed for a "spoiler" type character. What is a spoiler? For me, a spoiler is a character who "spoils" other character's plans. But not purposefully - unwittingly, as in buffoon. For example, when two characters are about to reconcile their differences, the spoiler enters the scene and says something to ruin the reconciliation. The other characters become more divided than ever. Or the opposite may happen: the spoiler unwittingly brings people together or makes something good happen through his bungling. The spoiler is a bit of a cartoon character and enlivens the entire play. But he can't overshadow the other characters. He might be considered a main character, but he isn't the protagonist or antagonist. And care has to be taken that the protagonist and antagonist are the ones who take the initiative to make things happen. The spoiler is only a catalyst. 

Fast Freddie is a private eye. Seedy looking. Not very bright. Recently retired - he sees retirement as his chance to do every investigation he ever wanted to do. He recently entered his first marriage (3 months). He now sees himself as a "marriage investigator." Tired of spying on marriages and seeing them break up - he wants to help put them back together. Of course, he knows next to nothing about marriage and his own marriage is stormy. 

He also sees himself as an investigative reporter. He comes to the TV station trying to do investigative reports. They canít get rid of him. He investigates crazy things, like personal notes in the classifieds. 

Freddie spies Bobís add in Bob's office and decides to investigate, thinking he can save that marriage. This brings him into personal involvement with Bob and Julie. 


Chris and Debra are both the product of broken homes. Debra was the oldest of three children. She loved her parents very deeply, however neither parent had been on good terms with the other since the second child was born. They were not openly loving or close, and were not very demonstrative with their children. At age thirteen, her parents divorced, devastating her. Her father left for another woman, and the resulting divorce was ugly, prolonged, and produced much guilt in Debra. Her mother did not remarry. Debra compensated by withdrawing emotionally. She is very much a career person, and looks mainly to herself for strength. Her marriage to Chris is riddled with doubt about the future. She is not close to him or open, and doesn't trust him. Debra is a college graduate, majoring in marketing, and sees her future in sales for small corporations where she can be a one person show. Her goal is to become head of a medium size business. Debra enjoys gourmet cooking, expensive perfumes, and travel to exotic countries, like India and Brazil, where they traveled the last two summers. She is also into "Junk bonds" for short term financial gain, and life insurance for long term financial security. She reads the stock market report every evening before going to bed. 

Chris's family broke apart when he was only seven. His mother remarried four times, each time worse for him, to men that did not want children. He felt rejected by his natural father and his stepfathers. He did a two year stint in the peace corps, trying to put his shattered life back together, but with little success. He has a basic distrust of any marriage partner and he continues to feel inferior to everyone, compensating by an attitude of superiority, lording it over everyone about his peace corps work and his charity work. Chris operates a printing business downtown and is trying to break into advertising printing. His only real interest in life is making a successful business, however he continues to do charity work, but never gets close to anyone he helps. Chris has thrown himself into his work and has no time for Debra. Debra doesn't care. She has thrown herself into her work, Sales Lady for a small corporation, selling ... It is obvious to those observing Chris and Debra that they are not close and lead separate lives. They are never together at parties, splitting up as soon as they arrive. 


Steve was the small town boy who made it big - or as big as one could make it in a town of 200,000. Steve had a very normal life in the small town he grew up in. His father was a manager at a local factory and Steve was a model citizen, well adjusted, middle class, reflecting typical values, and respectable. He knew the right moves to make to earn respect - went to the right church, contributed his time and money to the right charity, Page 4 supported civic functions, went to the right schools, and traveled with the right people. Before leaving high school, he knew he wanted into television production. Steve has a great hunger in his life. He is too normal, too respectable. There's no excitement, no passion, no drive, no goals, no direction. Thus Steve must go out of his way to create excitement. This is seen in his passion to drive the other station out of business. He goes out of his way to fill the vacuum in his life - thus the constant drive to produce new television programs. The content of these reflects Steve's search for something to fill the vacuum. 

Phyllis was raised similarly to Steve, but she is less restrained. She brings the excitement into Steve's life. When Phyllis was growing up, she was at the same socio/economic level as Steve, but she didn't feel like she had to gain the respect. In fact, she found that by being a little naughty, she attracted the attention of most of the respectable men around, men that she was attracted to because of their promise of security and socio/economic comfort. She has learned a habit of being flirtatious and a little naughty. She sees nothing wrong with being that kind of person; it's a way of life that has gained her much and lost her little. She has a similar vacuum in her life, and it is filled with her dabbling into the occult and past lives. 

Process management evaluation.

Has characterization succeeded? Characterization must create motives that conflict and create the conditions for the plot and subplot, and create the spoiler character. 

I have character characteristics that will create problems and conflict. I have conflicting views about vacations and vacation homes that symbolize their characteristics. They have a breaking marriage put in conflict by their characteristics, and they both want the problems solved one way or another. These are the most basic motivations, which are great for high concept plays. It isn't the same as I want to go to school and a villian is in the way; or I want the property and the villain is going to take it by hook or crook. But I'm going to go with it. 

From characterization comes: 

The plot: Will they break up, or will they make it?

The subplot now appears: the vacation (or compromise: the vacation from hell.)

The concept revisited

Characterization is likely to modify the concept, just as it helps form the plot. 

The concept was: A laid-back TV director rebels continuously against his driven wife and fantasizes of selling her. His old womanizing buddy spots the fake ad and calls. Both shocked, she goes out with him for spite. A bungling private detective tries to keep them together during several misunderstandings and reconciliations. Finally, as they they separate with different partners, they hesitate, realizing they want to be together, but they part. The detective bungles them together and they work out their differences. 

Concept becomes: A laid-back TV director and his driven wife want different vacations. He fantasizes of selling her. His womanizing buddy spots the fake ad, and they go out to make him jealous. A bungling private detective tries to keep them together, but does the opposite. They separate with different partners, but aren't happy. The detective bungles them together - he learns he can put up with her, and she learns she doesn't have to be perfect. 

Well, it's four lines and it states all of the important elements. I will work on the plot then again revisit concept.

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