The Importance of Writing

Why Paris Brown had to step down – it’s not ‘just’ Twitter

Twitter has its detractors, but one thing I can’t deny is that it is more than ‘just’ (abbreviated) words – and that’s why Paris Brown had to step down as Britain’s first youth police and crime commissioner.

This isn’t an attack on her. She’s only 17 and while she has stepped down after dumb remarks to do with drinking, shagging, drugging and gay-bashing, these are unfortunately things lots of teenagers do. I’m not sure how many of us would want our teenage ramblings in the public eye.

However, what she does highlight is why words can’t be separated from character, both on the page and out here in the real world.

Drunken tweets
The dangers of drinking and tweeting

Tweets and thoughts

Twitter is not just a way of letting the world know what you had for breakfast or just how much you love Stephen Fry (‘lots’, judging by his following). It is the only way most users express who they are.

Speech drives character and character drives speech. Our words are part of us, and though I’m not the first person to make this point, it’s a good one to make.

On Twitter, we choose what we broadcast to the public – in her case, drinking and the loneliness of the last bus home from the nightclub – with the words we use.  It’s also, as in Brown’s case, could be whether to call something ‘lame’, ‘gay’, ‘weak’ or ‘juvenile’, all words with loaded meanings both offensive to some and relatable to others.

Great characters and their dialogue

Looking at characters, screenwriting books consistently remind us to make words match character.

With the Terminator not only has his word choice displayed for us, but the T-1000’s words  – from ‘affirmative’ to ‘yes’, to ‘hasta la vista, baby’ – shows its development as a character.

Terminator responses
The Terminator’s Twitter is one I’d like to follow

“He doesn’t mean what he says”

Of course, screenwriting is also knowing how to make characters say one thing and make the audience know them well enough to know when they mean the opposite.

How many times have you shouted at the screen when character have said one thing as we know it is not what the character would do? As Robert McKee says , when a character says ‘”She loves me,” the audience leaves thinking, ‘”Wait  till tomorrow when she’ll love you not again.””

In fact, it’s key for screenwriting to make words and action separate at times, for if you are too sincere or on the nose, no one will watch it. McKee again on you writing that ‘The lovers reach across the table, touch hands, look longingly in each others’ eyes, say, “I love you, I love you”… and actually mean it. This is an unactable scene and will die like a rat in the road.’

Words always reflect character?

So, wait, I thought I said that we get all we need to know from a character’s words? No, they are an extension of character, both when they are the truth, lies or misunderstandings.

Character is revealed by action, yet Twitter is often the only way individuals are seen.  With no action for us to see if it is ‘out of character’ then we have nothing else to go on.

If Paris Brown had been a known clean living teenager who spent her time at refuge centres and organising petitions to end bullying, her words on Twitter would be seen as puzzlingly out of character.

As it is, the evidence of her other actions seems to support that these words are a good reflection of who she is.

Judge not in 140 characters

She is just a normal teen who, like many others, chose her words poorly and did some things she will regret when she’s older. By going on Twitter she has shown her current character.

Character can change over time, perhaps this incident will make her to do so, but for now the character revealed is not one that Kent wants as a junior representative of its police.

Twitter is not to blame, character is to blame, it just made it easier for others to spot.

And I hope that neither me nor you find that out the hard way.

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

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