Have you ever had a conversation where by the time it's done, you look at the other person and think, "I don't think we were having the same conversation."? I had those a lot when I worked for the government. As annoying as they are in real life, they are an excellent reminder for screenwriters. It is important to remember that character voices go beyond just how they talk. Character voices are also influenced by what they have experienced in the world and that will change how they see a situation. This means that two characters can be in the same scene and walk away thinking something completely different, which can have implications on your story later on down the road. Case in point, let me give you an example from my own experience.
I have six year old twin daughters. In order to help with childcare, we have had Au Pairs since they were six months old. To this day, my wife still doesn't understand why I do not like to run errands with an Au Pair by myself, especially if we have the girls with us. It's nothing personal, it all goes back to the first few weeks of participating in the program.
We had all gone to the zoo and were just sitting down for a lunch break. My wife went to get the food while I took care of the girls with our Au Pair. Now keep in mind that our Au Pair was 18 and from Brazil. I wasn't thinking about it myself until I noticed all of the other mothers looking at us. They were not friendly looks. It was that moment I realized all of the women in the room thought I was some thirty year old man who had knocked up an 18 year old exchange student. Let's just say that you could cut the judgmental scorn with a knife. It was so bad that I didn't even get to enjoy the husbands who were looking at me like, "You lucky SOB."
Finally, the woman at the table next to us turned and asked our Au Pair how old the girls were. Our Au Pair just looked at her like she didn't understand a word she had said (she was still worried about her English). Talk about piling onto an already bad situation. I stepped in, answered her questions and tried to have a pleasant conversation. That's when the woman turned to our Au Pair and said, "Well, you don't look like you had twins six months ago." Now, I'm from Seattle. I know passive aggressive when I hear it and this one took the cake. The air dripped with bile and hatred as if she hoped it would form a poison cloud, drift in my direction and kill me. I let it hang in the air for a second and said, "Could that be because she's not the mother?"
It was right at that moment that my wife walked up with our food and sat down at the table. The woman realized her mistake, turned a shade of white and I loved every second of it. The only exit plan she saw was to look at my wife and say, "You have beautiful daughters." She then turned back to her food and willed herself not to look at us again as her husband tried to suppress a chuckle.
The mood in the rest of the hall changed as well, besides the husbands who were still thinking, "You lucky SOB". Women came up, talked to my wife, congratulated her and told her how beautiful the girls were. By the time we were done, my wife was glowing and said, "That was a nice lunch." Not from my perspective.
So, to recap. We all had lunch in the same place, at the same table. My wife walked out thinking everyone sure was nice, our Au Pair walked out mortified that people thought she was a teen mom and I walked out thinking I probably would have been hung from the rafters by a bunch of soccer-moms if my wife hadn't been with us. Three characters, one scene, three different experiences. A lesson I now try to apply to our screenplays to make sure we are getting as much character depth as possible.
Tune in next time and maybe I'll tell you about all the sympathetic smiles I get from people who assume I'm divorced whenever I take my girls out for special Dad/Daughter time.