Mastering the reveal: The art of revealing character traits

How best to reveal character traitsRecently been reading William Goldman’s screenplay, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” rediscovering its brilliant reveals, among them:

  • When their only escape is to leap from a cliff into a raging mountain river, Sundance reveals to Butch, “I can’t swim!”
  • After Butch convinces Sundance to move to Bolivia, their first attempted robbery there is a disaster because in that moment it’s revealed Butch neither speaks nor understands Spanish.
  • Preparing for a major gun battle, Butch confesses to Sundance that he’s never shot anyone.

The timing of what you reveal will affect the impact of what’s revealed. Suppose in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the two of them are riding horseback through the desert and Sundance suddenly says, “You know, Butch, I never learned how to swim.” Butch would probably react the same way the audience would: why the heck is he talking about swimming and why should we even care?

A few other timely reveals from films you might know:

  • In “Jaws,” Brody reveals he’s afraid of the water the moment he has to go out on a boat.
  • In “Star Wars,” Luke learns the true identity of his father during his fight with Darth Vader.
  • In “The Shawshank Redemption,” we learn Andy’s true motive for hanging movie posters on the wall of his cell — the moment the warden discovers the escape tunnel.

Timely reveals punctuate events within a scene, add character depth and serve the overall story, thus creating a more satisfying experience for the audience.

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