In 2019, Phoebe Waller-Bridge seemed to burst out of nowhere when she went home with three Emmy statuettes for her highly-acclaimed series FLEABAG (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Comedy Series).
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The truth is, the multi-hyphenate first performed FLEABAG in 2013 as a one-woman show in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — and she’s been busting her butt as a writer, actor, and producer ever since. In 2016 she wrote and produced the first season of FLEABAG as well as another BBC series called CRASHING. In 2018 she wrote and produced the critical hit KILLING EVE. In 2019, she co-wrote the upcoming James Bond flick NO TIME TO DIE.
And there’s more. There’s just so much more.
So it’s safe to say that the witty, clever, and hilarious creator has some insight worth sharing for writers. Here are some of her best hits:
- Make characters feel like real people
“I always think the test for me as an actor, whenever I’m writing anything, is: would I want to play that role?” Waller-Bridge told Deadline. For NO TIME TO DIE, Waller-Bridge wrote dialogue with the actors in mind and endeavored to provide rich and exciting pages for the cast. She did the same, to a resounding success, with Andrew Scott’s unforgettable character in FLEABAG.
The takeaway? Picture a real person playing your character and write for them.
- Create sympathetic antagonists and imperfect heroes
“I think finding that heart in [KILLING EVE’s Villanelle], finding a heart in a heartless character was the fun of it. Finding those things that the audience is least expecting,” Waller-Bridge said in a conversation with Tina Fey.
If a character is pure evil, there’s no dilemma for the protagonist and therefore their hero’s journey isn’t as satisfying. Likewise, if the protagonist doesn’t have room to grow, they won’t capture an audience’s attention.
- Defy stereotypes and allow your characters to be multi-layered
“I want to afford male characters the same vulnerability that women are afforded,” Waller-Bridge said in a Deadline interview. From her “sexy priest” in season two of FLEABAG to the fashion-loving assassin at the center of KILLING EVE, Waller-Bridge has proven how captivating it is to create unexpected characters.
- Take risks
“You’re allowed to bore your friends and family, but to bore your audience is unforgivable,” she asserted to Vogue. Waller-Bridge approaches her writing with an almost devious ability to lure her audience into a false sense of security before turning a scene or character on its head. Her comedy brims with pain and her drama is peppered with humor. The result is addicting, so don’t be afraid to get inventive.
- Bring your scenes to life with complications and obstacles
“I always think there should be at least three things going on in one scene at the same time,” she said to Deadline. “I think every actor should know that there are three things this person is dealing with, and usually it’s like they’re having to eat lunch, or they’re having to deal with a really hot room. It’s something like that.”
Once you’ve written the foundation of your story, bring your scenes to life with world-building details for your characters to respond and react to. Little touches like that are what make stories unforgettable.
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com, and she has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!