Friday, January 13, 2017

Screenwriter Robert Gosnell on Opposing Characteristics

You Think You Know Someone 

"Once upon a time, there was an ocean,
but now, it's a mountain range
Something unstoppable was set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything has changed."
                                      Paul Simon

Shortly after I joined the Navy, while in Radio School at the Naval base in San Diego, I made a friend. He was older than I, in his mid-twenties, while I, having joined the military right out of high school, was still in my teens. He was a bright, articulate guy, but what impressed me the most about him, and what I hoped to learn from knowing him, was his self-confidence. He was fairly brimming with it, and I was envious.

During one class, we were instructed to engage in teletype messaging, a common mode of communications between ships and military installations at the time, and I was online with my friend. One of us would send a message, and the other would reply.

In the midst of this exercise, he suddenly began to "jam" my efforts to send messages. I would begin to type, and he would immediately start typing simultaneously, turning my message into a garbled mess. I laughed it off, at first, seeing it as a harmless practical joke. But, it continued. Every time I tried to type, he over-rode me. I asked him to stop. He wouldn't. I asked again. He still wouldn't. It went on this way, until the end of class.

Afterward, I asked why he had done something so rude and inexplicable. At first, he wouldn't give me an answer, but I badgered him about it until he finally gave in. His explanation? He was intentionally trying to make me angry, because, in his view, when people got angry, their true feelings came out. In short, he wanted to know if I really liked him!

I was flabbergasted! Here was a guy whom I admired for his self-confidence, and now had discovered he was riddled with insecurity! For me, it was a real head-scratcher.

Though I didn't know it, at the time, my friend had taught me a valuable life-lesson. He had introduced me to the concept of opposing characteristics. Later, when I began writing, I reflected back on that event, and others of the same ilk, and became aware of what a valuable tool that particular aspect of human nature can be in developing a character within a story.

Because, we all have opposing characteristics, in some form. The best of us have our dark side, and the worst of us have some  positive qualities to offset the negatives. It's human, and if we want our characters to be human; to be realistic, we must instill those characteristics within them.

Opposing characteristics provide two basic elements to enhance a story: first, they reveal an internal conflict within our character, and conflict is critical to story-telling in any form. We allow the audience to see those conflicts at work, and it gives our character depth and dimension.

The second benefit of the opposing characteristics tool is its ability to demonstrate a weakness within our character. A potential fatal flaw changes the tenor of a story by leaving open the possibility that winning or losing may hinge on this very internal conflict. It did just that in the courtroom drama "A Few Good Men," wherein our villain, Jack Nicholson's Col. Nathan Jessup, was brought down by his own arrogance.

My friend from Radio School and I remained friends until the class ended and we were sent to different duty stations, but I never regarded him in quite the same light. He had shown me a chink in his armor; he had revealed his opposing characteristics.

Nothing was different, but everything had changed.


 "The Blue Collar Screenwriter and The Elements of Screenplay" is currently available at:
Robert's book, 
Amazon digital and paperback
Barnes & Noble
Find Robert at:
Website (with information on classes)

A  professional screenwriter for more than thirty years,  Robert Gosnell has produced credits in feature films, network television, syndicated television, basic cable and pay cable, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of Canada.

Robert began his career writing situation comedy as a staff writer for the ABC series Baby Makes Five.  As a freelance writer, he wrote episodes for Too Close for Comfort and the TBS comedies Safe at Home andRocky Road.  In cable, he has scripted numerous projects for the Disney Channel, including Just Perfect, a Disney Channel movie featuring  Jennie Garth. In 1998, he wrote the  Showtime original movie, Escape from Wildcat Canyon, which starred Dennis Weaver and won the national "Parents Choice Award." Robert's feature credits include the Chuck Norris/Louis Gosset Jr. film Firewalker, an uncredited rewrite on the motion picture Number One With A Bullet  starring Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams, and the sale of his original screenplay Kick And Kick Back to Cannon Films. Robert was also selected as a judge for the 1990 Cable Ace awards, in the Comedy Special category.

In 1990, Robert left Hollywood for Denver, where he became active in  the local independent film community. His screenplay Tiger Street was produced by the Pagoda Group of Denver, and premiered on Showtime Extreme in August of 2003. In 1999, Denver’s Inferno Films produced the action film Dragon and the Hawk  from his script. In 2001, Robert co-wrote the screenplay for the  independent feature Siren for Las Vegas company Stage Left Productions. His feature script Juncture was produced by Front Range Films in March of 2006. 

Robert  is a principal member of the Denver production company "Conspiracy Films." He is frequently an invited speaker for local writers organizations,  served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in 2002, and in 2007 was chosen to participate as a panelist for the Aspen Film Festival Short Screenplay Contest. Robert  regularly presents his screenwriting class "The Elements of Screenplay," along with advanced classes and workshops, in the Denver area.


  1. I don't know about you all, but I learn best when examples, such as Robert has given us, are right in front of me. Opposing characteristics is a great way to develop conflict in your characters, thus in the script or book.

    Thanks, Bob, as always, for bringing us your experience.

  2. What a great post! It reminded me of one of those personality-typing courses I took way back when. After we'd all discovered our "types" and where they fit on a pie chart, the instructor told us that under stress we'd become the exact opposite type. That was the first time I'd heard that, and while I'd like to think it isn't true, I suspect it is.

  3. Thanks for your entertaining post. Ying and yang always seems to liven things up, as you pointed out, critical to keeping the reader/viewer engaged. Cheers

  4. I dislike conflict in real life and struggle with it in writing. You've reminded me of an internal conflict we all have. I need to bring this out more in my writing. Thanks for a great article!