For example, You’re Next. It’s a horror movie, but you don’t have to watch the icky bits in order to see what I’m talking about here.
Today, I want to talk about the amazing characterization that occurs in just over five minutes of the film. (The meat of it is actually three and a half!)
There’s no real setup needed – an extended family is getting together for dinner at the parental home. (The shorter 3’30” version will work, but this really is something you have to watch to get the impact. If the embed doesn’t work for you in your country, head to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk8Ycxt5aNA
Once you’ve watched it the first time for the “story”, rewind and watch it a second time. Pay close attention to how all the characters interact – their facial expressions, their body language, their tone of voice.
In this short scene we get a sense of who all these characters are – even if some of them aren’t going to be with us for very much longer. They draw on expectations and stereotypes – but aren’t
This clip is great, because none of these are super-famous stars – so we don’t have the crutch of their prior roles and personas to fill in for actual characterization. (You know, how Liam Neeson is the toughest middle aged guy ever.) Further, for us print writers, being able to rewatch a clip like this gives us a great visual reference when we want to describe what’s happening so that our character’s heads aren’t always just nodding.
This kind of quick characterization is a vital skill to learn. Think of the number of books or shows you and your friends read or watch because you’re invested in the characters. With attention spans shortening, free time (and luxury spending) at a premium, getting your readers (or viewers) interested in and invested in your characters is something you cannot slack on.