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How to Develop Interesting Characters

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 9 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
How To Develop Interesting Characters

Once you have formulated an idea of the story or plot that you’re going to tell in your screenplay, the next thing you need to do is to think about the role each of your characters are going to play in it.

Making Your Characters Intriguing

Whether they are based on friends or family members or are completely fictitious, you cannot hope to write an effective screenplay unless you’ve got a firm grasp on every aspect of your character’s personality. You need to fully understand this so that you can reflect upon how they might act in certain situations, how they’d speak and relate to people and what is motivating them in the story. Your characters don’t need to be likeable but you do need to make them realistic and to give them a personality that the audience can recognise and relate to.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t have contradictions in the way they behave and the things they say. On the contrary, some of the most interesting character roles have seen heroes who have a dark side and likeable villains, so it’s not a case of you needing to make certain characters black and white. It’s often more interesting with some characters to keep the audience second guessing. For example, characters which have a certain ‘public’ persona might be portrayed very differently in private. Murder mysteries and thrillers are both genres which will keep an audience in constant suspense about the ‘true’ personality of the ‘killer’ and what is propelling them to act in such a way.

Creating A Biography Of Your Characters

Although you may not include every single aspect of a character’s make up, one of the good ways in which you can start to develop a character’s identity when you’re writing a screenplay is to draw up a biography of their entire life, even though that won’t all necessarily make it into the film. It will, however, help you as the screenwriter to cement the personality of each character into your own mind so that when you’re writing dialogue for them, it’s consistent with whom they are. In drawing up a biography so that you have an overall composite of a character, some of the things you might want to ask yourself could include:

  • What sex are they and what do they look like (i.e. physical appearance, the clothes they wear)
  • Social background – for example, their place of birth, what their childhood was like, the school they went to, the job they do, their race, religion and any hobbies and passions they have
  • Psychology – what their temperament is like, any habits or quirks, their moral standards and values, things they are good and not so good at as well as what motivates them and what are their ambitions and fears

By drawing up a mental image of them, you’ll get to become intimate with everything they do which will help to drive your story forward in a way that’s consistent with the type of personality and behavioural traits that each of your characters possess. In turn, this will make them appear more realistic to the audience which will maintain their interest in the story.

Other Methods Of Developing Interesting Characters

To also make your characters interesting, you also need to reflect how each stage of the story is affecting them. For some, that will mean emphasising how some characters have grown emotionally – perhaps in overcoming challenges, for example. On the other side with, say, a villain for example, you’ll want to illustrate how they start to lose control of situations as the result of being found out or overcome. Another way to give the audience an insight is sometimes to let them into a character’s deepest thoughts by using their voice in narrative form to express the thoughts they’re having.

Progressing Your Characters

Ultimately, as the story develops and reaches its climax, the characters within it need to be reflect the changes that have happened to them, either for better or worse and sometimes even both so that the story you’re attempting to tell is also reflected in the different personalities and the transformations the story has forced them to go through in much the same way as the audience would respond if they were faced with the same dilemmas and outcome.

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