This piece was written by Yujia Song, an FMS student who participated in our spring workshop with producer Jeff Strauss.
Jeff Strauss, TV writer and producer, visited Tufts for a 3-day intensive character workshop. Fourteen FMS students sat around a table to join him in a discussion on how to build characters and tell a good story.
A character is, as Jeff sees, in large part an amalgamation of choices. He stressed the importance of understanding characters through the choices they make. He shared with us that a good way to get a story going is to make a choice for a character—either to do or not to do something—in a constructed context. With their choices, they will be able to differentiate their voices.
Some students expressed concern regarding the difficulty of putting themselves in the shoes of someone who lives a completely different life. Jeff gave us a simple answer: empathy. He told us that the best way, undoubtedly, is to experience more and meet more people. He also talked about some controversies on writing about others’ experiences.
Crucial to building characters is, according to Jeff, asking ourselves questions that we would ask the characters, such as our greatest fear or deepest shame. “The way that stories, even just the ones we tell ourselves, are as important to ‘who we are’ as anything else”, as Jeff said. No matter whose story it is and what story it tells, it is a part of our own voice.
A large part of the workshop was analyzing the screenings, including The Office, Fargo, Moonlight, Taxi Driver, and of course, Friends. Discussing the films along with Scott Sedita’s 8 Characters of Comedy, we got a sense of what purpose each role serves and how they interact and balance with each other. For some, we delved deep into the human psyche and shared our unique perspectives on what drives the characters. The workshop ended with a hands-on screenwriting opportunity which allowed us to extend our creativity and put to practice what we had learnt.
Aside from the many essential understanding around concepts of “character” that Jeff helped unpack—and perhaps the food as well, the biggest takeaway might be the importance of being more observant and understanding who we are before understanding our characters.
- Yujia Song, FMS Student