Watch the video below.
Go ahead. Immerse yourself in the world of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and remember how you felt the first time you saw the movie.
(If you haven’t seen the first movie, you’re missing out. It’s got a great story with a complex plot, well-defined characters, and lots of action.)
Isn’t this a great way to distill an entire movie down to an easily manageable 8 minutes? There’s a lesson in here for writers as well.
You may have noticed that Captain Jack Sparrow’s dialogue seems to change after he escapes the jail cell at the beginning of the movie. This lasts approximately until the first visit to the treasure cave. It’s almost like there are two different Sparrows – the confident one who’s a little crazy that we’re introduced to and the more clear-spoken and somewhat stupid pirate from the middle.
If you didn’t notice the change, you may want to rewatch the video. I think it starts at 1:38 and lasts until 3:10. His lines begin to fall flat and lack the singular, dramatic style that we came to expect from the beginning of the movie.
Why this change? I think we are seeing Sparrow’s true personality come out courtesy of good screenwriting and good acting by Johnny Depp. The craziness in Sparrow’s personality is all smoke and mirrors to conceal the pirate’s true intentions and keep his enemies unbalanced. Characters should always be clearly and consistently defined yet complex. Sparrow is all this in spades.
How does the writer maintain consistent yet complex characters?
By performing strategic read-throughs for each major character.
Do this after your manuscript is otherwise complete: Choose one character to focus on and read through your entire manuscript. You are looking for character inconsistencies and opportunities for improvement. Make edits as you go. Look at dialogue, physical descriptions, the works. Above all, remember to stay focused on that one character. This includes skipping over paragraphs, scenes, and chapters that don’t involve him or her. After your read-through is complete, finish any remaining edits before moving on. Repeat for each major character in your manuscript.
Your manuscript will be stronger for this investment of time. Make it a regular part of your editing process.