Should You Set An Emotionally Abusive Character Loose In Your Screenplay?


Only if you want to add authenticity to your screenwriting. Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, politicians; they all make fascinating characters in your film script. But you need to do your research on common anti-social personality disorders.

Characters with personality disorders behave in very specific ways to manipulate other characters into their way of thinking. What are some tactics they use?

GASLIGHTING

These are repeated and forceful proclamations that eventually beat their victims into submission. Claims of “It never happened” and “I didn’t do anything” are common examples used in screenwriting. Continued gaslighting causes the victim to doubt their facts, self-worth and eventually their sanity.

BLAMESHIFTING

This is an insidious technique where the perpetrator refuses to take responsibility for their actions. Howls of “It’s all your fault” and “you always do that” exploits the victim to accept blame for the perpetrator’s actions. Aggressors also dominate conversations with their points of view and a deep sense of unwarranted entitlement. The actions are callous and calculated.

NONSENSICAL ARGUMENTS

These arguments create some fascinating movie dialog in your screenplay. They are often characterized by aggressive, vocal statements which are irrational, incorrect, and often irrelevant to the central argument. The more toxic the characters, the more absurd these conversations become. Much of this behavior is simply baiting and pushing the boundaries of the victim to exert control over them.

MICROAGGRESSION

These aren’t full-blown arguments, but rather niggling jabs at the victim, causing them to lose self-esteem and feel guilty. They are often seemingly innocent comments such as “Are you sure you can handle that?” or “That’s for professionals. Let me do it.” These acts don’t need to be verbal. They can be a scolding look, a dismissive grunt or an eye roll.

PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE

These are characterized by abnormally long periods of silence and negative body language. A good example is one person asking the other if everything is all right and they reply that everything’s fine. These interactions can also include sarcasm, condescension, patronization, snarkiness and even extreme complementation.

CONTROLLED INTERRUPTION

This occurs when the aggressor continually interrupts and hijacks the conversation. They arrogantly assume they know what the victim is thinking and feeling and steer the conversation to their desired outcome. An example might occur when a toxic person cuts into a conversation with “I know you hate doing it, but we all need to pitch in.”

NEGATIVE QUESTIONING

This is characterized by a protracted line of questioning designed to demean the victim. It is typified by unreasonable demands, unfair comparisons to others and overly harsh criticism. An abusive parent, spouse or frenemy might antagonize their victim with minor or irrelevant questions.

JUST KIDDING

These are nasty digs which are thinly disguised as jokes. Asking a plump, non-pregnant girl when she’s expecting or telling a child they were adopted are examples of this type of behavior.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

This is how certain toxic people win arguments. They drag other people into their arguments with statements like “Person X agrees with  me” or “Person Y feels the same way as me.” This makes the victim feel outvoted whether the statement is true or not.

KISS AND MAKE UP

The aggressor deliberately and maliciously plays up. They create a terrible argument making the victim deeply upset. Then they apologize with radical kindness and assurances that their behavior will never happen again, they’ve changed, or they’ll make it up to them, with interest. Uncharacteristically- passionate sex or an extravagant gift after an argument also fall into this category.

BULLYING

We all know people who like this, on and off movie screens. This includes name-calling, shaming, cyberbullying. gossiping, smear campaigns, and even covert actions such as ignoring, not inviting to group events or giving an employee the worst desk in the office. These actions are designed to humiliate the victim into powerlessness.

JEKYLL AND HYDE

They are so nice when we first met. Always kind and considerate. Now they won’t support my goals, they tell me I’ll never make it, exploit my insecurities, ruin my relationships, restrict who I can see and what I can spend my money on. They make me feel afraid and threaten me with violence if I tell anyone or try to leave. What happened?

OBSEQUIOUSNESS

This is a subtle form of abuse that had appeared in many well=written movies. For instance, the abuser might consistently get dates, times and critical details wrong. Rather than blame you for the mistake they become absurdly apologetic. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were going to pick the kids.” Disarming comments such as “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” also fall into this category.

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