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Creating Great Characters

Updated: Apr 23, 2023


Following on from our tropes article and how to avoid them, Script Stable is diving into some extra tips on how to create a great character.


Creating a memorable and relatable character is crucial in making your screenplay stand out. As ever, the art of writing a great screenplay involves much more than just a great character BUT this is a very important part of the puzzle, so let's get into it.


Here are the top elements to consider when developing a strong character in your script:


BACKSTORY

The background of a character is essential in shaping their personality, motivations, and conflicts. A well-defined backstory can help the audience understand and connect with the character. There are many ways to show a character's past. Some scripts involve the backstory as a large element of the story and others use it lightly (focusing more on the present version of their characters in the story). Either way, you need know your character's backstory in order to know how to write them.


PERSONALITY

Giving your character a distinct personality is crucial in making them stand out. Think about the character's likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, and how these traits impact their actions and decisions. A lot of writers put themselves into their characters, this is fine as long as it's true to the character at hand. But what commonly happens is that a writer can put too much of themselves into every character because, well, narcism. Fully knowing each of your character's personalities will help you to stay true to their journey.


GOALS AND MOTIVATION

Your character should have a clear motivation for what they want to achieve. This can be as simple as getting a promotion or finding love, or as complex as saving the world. This is the crux of the story and how you summarise your story into a logline: Your character is xyz but wants to be xyz instead. Everybody has a goal, whether it's bold and brash or secret and hidden, we are all motivated by something we want OR something we do not want. What does you character want and what's going to get in their way?


CONFLICT

Conflict is the driving force of any good story. Your character should face obstacles that challenge their beliefs, values, and motivations, leading them to grow and change over the course of the story. Conflict isn't just arguing. There needs to be conflict within the actual story as well as the inner conflict of the protagonist. We cover a lot of the ingredients of screenwriting here if you want to delve into more elements.


RELATIONSHIPS


Relationships with other characters are crucial in shaping a character's personality and motivations. People need relationships, even if they're stranded on a desert island they will invent friends to mentally survive - famously a handprint on a football, called Wilson. How your character interacts with other characters, including friends, enemies, and romantic interests, can reveal important aspects of their personality. People interact differently with different people. The way a school teacher speaks to their class is not the same way they would speak to their best friend. Showing the audience who they are in different scenarios can be used to your advantage. Your characters don't need to (and shouldn't have) multiple personalities but instead should be multi-faceted. This will also help with their character conflict.


APPEARANCE


Physical appearance can also play a significant role in shaping a character. Within the first second of seeing the character, we can make an assessment on what kind of character they are. Are they in uniform? Are they dressed well? Or badly? What is the appearance of their environment? What kind of car do they have? Giving visual clues can tell the audience a lot without saying a word. A character's clothing, body language, and even their posture can help convey their personality and motivations. However, a lot of new writers can get hung up on this element under the guise that the visuals of a character is what makes them interesting. 'My character is interesting because they have an eyepatch and where a big fur coat in the height of summer' means nothing if it relates to nothing. Appearance is decoration to help form the full picture. It isn't the full picture. Showing the audience information helps to avoid exposition in dialogue. Use it as a cheat code and it will do your script so many favours. Use it randomly and you'll have an annoyingly bad script on your hands.


VOICE


Your character's voice and dialogue can be used to further reveal their personality, motivations, and backstory. Pay attention to the way your character speaks, including the words they use, their tone of voice, and their cadence. Different people have different dialects and slang but more than this people have a primary sense that they rely on to communicate. For instance, visual people will say things like 'Look, all I'm saying is' or 'Do you see?'. Whereas auditory people would say 'Listen, all I'm saying is' or 'Hear me out'. Emotionally intuitive people might say 'I feel like you're always' whereas a very logical person might say 'I think xyz'. You can utilise the different communication styles to help shape a character's voice. You want your character's to be so recognisable that if you cover their names and say the lines, you should know what character is saying it.

The ultimate key to creating a compelling character is to think beyond just surface-level traits and dig deeper into the character's motivations, backstory, and relationships. By considering these elements, you can craft a character that is relatable, memorable, and essential to the success of your screenplay.


 

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