Sue the Screenwriter on the fight for characters

Posted in Blogs, Theater and Dance

SUZANNE KELMAN, Nov. 23, 2012

“Writing Partners – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

Writing with a writing partner can be great. Rosie Woods is my partner on some of my scripts and, on the whole, I love it and totally recommend it.

But also be aware that in some ways a writing partnership can feel a bit like a marriage. There’s the good the bad and the ugly!

The good is when a story is flowing and you are both finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences. The bad is when you have a critical story problem, which you are both trying desperately to solve, and the ugly is when two passionate storytellers think the story should go in a completely different direction.

So, what happens when you find yourself knee-deep in the “ugly”?

Rosie and I found ourselves in that position, while writing our most recent screenplay, “Violet Skye.”

Our main character, “Violet,” seemed to have a mind of her own and we had been working our way through several structural issues that this character and her wayward traits had created for us. In trying to solve one of those problems, Rosie thought it might be a good idea to kill off one of her potential love interests, a direction I didn’t agree with. I found myself pleading for his life like a mother at a son’s stay of execution.

It’s not that killing him off was a bad choice, ’cuz we had this other Colin Firth-type character waiting in the wings. But it would have made it a different story. So, on that day, our writing session went something like this:

Rosie:  I think we should kill off David?

Sue:  What?  No way! He’s the blonde, cute one.

Rosie:  Well, Violet will never get to be with Marcus if we don’t.

Sue:  Did I mention he’s the blonde, cute one?

Rose:  But Marcus is Colin Firth in our heads, he is a better choice for Violet.

Sue:  Every interesting man is Colin Firth in my head, but I still think we should keep the blonde, cute one. It’s a better resolution for the audience.

Rosie:  I don’t think so. Marcus is a much more interesting choice.

Sue:  But David is sexy, passionate and blonde!  He’s the one who stimulates her. You know I’m right.

At this point, Rosie squints and tries to figure out her next move. She reaches for one of the cute little “wristies” she’s wearing and throws it at me. Then, I make another smart-assed comment (on purpose) and she responds by taking off the other one and throwing that one at me, too.

I proceed to put on her wristies like I’ve just won a prize. (I love her personal style. Let’s see if she ever gets those back.)  Another 30 minutes of throwing clothing, pacing and pleading our cases ensues. In the end and in this particular instance, David lives, but only by the skin of his teeth. It could have gone either way.

What I love about the ugly (the debate) is that we both have the same goal. Our choices are not dictated by ego, but rather by a passionate desire to tell the best version of our story.

The good news about the ugly is that it always makes our story stronger. Whether a character lives or dies in one of our scripts is not incidental to a story. Each character has a place, a reason and a purpose for being there and after 30 minutes of the ugly, we know exactly what that is.

I encourage you, potential screenwriters, to try writing with a partner. It can be really fun, but be aware that you may not always agree on what direction the story should go. However, don’t be afraid to challenge your writing partner about the story or to challenge your characters. If they are meant to be there, it will be obvious, no matter how many articles of clothing you and your partner throw at each other to get there.

Suzanne Kelman is a multi-award winning screenwriter. Two of her screenplays have been optioned and are in development, while another is in pre-production and due to begin filming in Europe in 2013.  Kelman recently won “Best Overall” for her script “Illusion” in the 2012 Script-a-Thon contest. 

Upcoming events:

Kelman’s next session of her “Screenwriting 101” class will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 1 featuring a lesson in:  “How to write compelling dialogue and action lines that leap off the page.” The cost is $45 and classes are held in Bayview. To sign up, email

November 23-26   at the Clyde Theatre in Langley: 

“Cloud Atlas” at 7:30 p.m. shows Friday through Monday
“Frankenweenie” at  5 p.m. shows Saturday and  Sunday


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