Character development – with a twist

I have subscribed THE NEW YORKER for several years now. Often I only find time to skim through the contents, but when I am sitting down for a few hours to read one of the long articles it is always a great experience. Not only because the dramaturgy of the articles is great, and also the writing, but I always have the feeling that I get really close to the portrayed characters (actually like you do when you are watching a really good documentary).

One of these articles is the portrait of Frédéric Bourdin. Writer David Grann gets close to this man who is a notorious lier and often transforms himself into peronalities of missing children. But different to most con-men his aim is not his victim’s money. Instead he seems to be driven by the need for attention, love and wanting a real family. Which boundaries he crosses and how his path suddenly interferes with the family of a missing boy (and what crime seems to be behind that) you can read here.

But why am I writing this here on Scriptalicious? Because when Bourdin describes how he is creating his “characters” it reads like a “how to” article on character development for screenplays.

One day when I was visiting Bourdin, he described how he transformed himself into a child. Like the impostors he had seen in films such as “Catch Me If You Can,” he tried to elevate his criminality into an “art.” First, he said, he conceived of a child whom he wanted to play. Then he gradually mapped out the character’s biography, from his heritage to his family to his tics. “The key is actually not lying about everything,” Bourdin said. “Otherwise, you’ll just mix things up.” He said that he adhered to maxims such as “Keep it simple” and “A good liar uses the truth.”

Apart from some good ol’ writing tips like “keep it simple” (and somewhere between the lines “write what you know”) the whole article is a psychological thriller with a real crime story as a B-plot. I really recommend reading it.

By the way: I asked myself why no one has made a movie from this story yet, but of course that already happened. There was a feature film in 2010, and a documentary will premier this year.

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