Interview with screenwriter Rhiannon Moller-Trotter

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

I started writing when I was about six or seven years old. According to my mom, what I wrote was relatively dark. I vaguely recall writing a story about a vampire stalking a woman in her own home, haunting her dreams. It was called “I Dream of Dracula.” As someone who loves the horror genre, there was a supernatural theme in my early ‘work’.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

Horror and fantasy were my go-to, for both filmic and written inspiration. I was enthralled with Stephen King adaptations, like Mouth of Madness and The Shining. My dad let me rent pretty much anything I wanted. I would watch the tapes over and over, discovering new moments. Perhaps it was a bit obsessive, but I loved to completely consume entertainment. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, both the films and the books, transformed me. They inspired me to develop intricate, other-worldly lands and characters. My favorite book then, and still now, is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. His absurd musings were directly in line with what I imagined a story should look like.

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

As someone who is figuring this out for herself, it’s hard for me to give a succinct response based on personal experience. What my gut tells me, and what I have heard other writers say, is that you have to keep writing. Submit your writing to contests, take classes, and to share your work with friends and people whose opinions you trust. Go to film festivals, make friends there, and see what advice they have. Maybe they know someone who might be interested in reading your material. Just put it out there and keep improving your skills.

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

All of them. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had an eccentric lifestyle, filled with varying real life caricatures. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a character is inspired by people I’ve met, until I look at them more closely. Then I notice I’ve taken fragments of friends and strangers and morphed them into one complete entity.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

I like to start with the basics of who someone is. Where do they live, how did they grow up, what do they do for work, and then build from there. What do they want? What scares them? Who do they have relationships with? How do others view them? How do they view themselves? You can follow that up by digging deeper into their flaws, their weird habits, the choices they make. It helps to become invested in who they are, and believe they could be real.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

Most of the time, yes. Sometimes a story will come to mind and I start writing and discovering characters along the way. It is imperative to at least begin with a skeleton of an idea of who my characters are. Building strong characters before moving forward with the story creates magic along the way. The story can take on a surprising life of its own if your characters are fleshed out, almost making choices for you.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

I think that depends on the story I’m writing. If I’m deeply invested and it comes from a raw, personal place, then I’ll be deeply involved with my characters on an emotional level. If it’s just a fun piece that I’m playing around with, it allows far more objectivity and emotional distance.

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

Having structure engrained into your psyche always helps. It allows a lot of freedom to focus on story, moments, and characters, without getting bogged down. I do find it fun to play with structure. Films that toy around with format are more interesting to watch when structure is broken up in a unique and compelling way. A good example of this is Mandy, a film I love that came out in 2018. It feels so visceral and dreamlike, using haptic visuality to tell the story. The film flips structure and storytelling on its head.

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

I have a bad habit of jumping in headfirst. I will typically go back and re-do everything, and then hash out an outline. One day I’ll know better.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

Believability. Even if a character is completely off the wall, or makes horrible decisions, their behavior should come from an authentic place. It’s fine to question whether you like a character or agree with the choices they make. If you’re too busy disbelieving who the character is, or the actions they take, then you’re not invested in the story.