Writing for established characters can be a challenging task for screenwriters. One of the main challenges is capturing the unique voice and mannerisms of these characters. This can be especially difficult if the screenwriter is joining a show mid-series and needs to quickly get up to speed on the characters.
Michael Jamin, Hollywood Screenwriter, discusses his experience with this here:
Do Your Research on the Characters
One approach to overcoming the challenge of writing when there’s already character establishment is to do thorough research on the characters. This may involve watching past episodes of the show or reading past scripts to get a sense of how the characters speak and behave.
Michael Jamin joined the King of the Hill crew during Season 5. Before doing so, he and other writers watched every episode ever done for the show or read the scripts themselves in order to study the way the characters talk, their mannerisms, and how they construct sentences. That’s over 100 episodes and a lot of homework to master the iconic TV show characters. By immersing themselves in the world of the show, the writers were able to more effectively capture the voices of the characters in their writing.
Writing in Character
Another approach that screenwriters can use to effectively write for established characters is to get into character themselves. This involves adopting the mindset and voice of the character as they write. Jamin often uses this technique in the writer’s room and actively uses it for the TV show he is currently working on: Tacoma FD. On Tacoma FD, the showrunners are also the stars of the show. He mimics their mannerisms and talks the way they talk as he pitches ideas, helping him to get into the mindset of the character and find the right tone and voice for them.
Dialing up Character Traits
One final technique that can be useful for TV and film writers writing for established characters is to dial up certain character traits in order to create comedy. Jamin gives the example of Steve Lemme who he says is a good-looking, confident man. When pitching ideas to Lemme, Jamin dials up the character’s confidence and makes him sound more arrogant and cocky as well as no longer just good-looking but fantastic looking. By exaggerating certain traits of the character, writers create humorous situations and dialogue that people can connect to.
Ready to Write for TV?
Writing for established characters can be a daunting task for screenwriters, but with research, practice, and a willingness to get into character and exaggerate certain traits, it is possible to effectively capture the unique voices and mannerisms of these characters. By following these techniques, screenwriters can create compelling and authentic stories for their audience. You can learn more about how to write for established TV characters by checking out Michael Jamin’s online screenwriting courses or listening to his podcast “Screenwriters Need to Hear This” on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the podcast on his YouTube channel.