How can you develop characters?
Start off with a character development questionnaire, which is designed to help you check if your characters are structured into the overall screenplay, and are arcing, well:
Then onto the sorts of questions that may be raised by a script reader whilst analysing your characters:
Writesofluid blog reader Vera Mark made a great addition to this:
“Make sure stuff isn’t there for stuff’s sake or rather, for the sake of giving the character something to do/obstacles to overcome, etc. Make sure stuff is used in an organic way.”
Consider how you might add “stuff” such as events, obstacles and maybe even characters/character interactions, just because you want to include an impressive/funny event, or because you love a character or a line/joke, or because the scene has entertainment value such as ‘that cool car chase’…
However you interpret it, the main point is to keep “stuff” relevant to the story. Perhaps we should add “kill that filler stuff” to the list of screenwriting phrases, alongside “kill your darlings”.
When I write a report; particularly a development report, I always find myself drawn to character development first and foremost. It doesn’t matter if you have a perfectly-timed structure with all the right bits at the right times… If you haven’t developed your characters well enough, your plot won’t have the right balance.
Story is king, and you don’t have a story without characters. But are your characters really developed as well as you think they are? Remember that it’s not just about your protagonist; other supporting characters need to be developed too so as to complement your protagonist and the plot.
So how exactly do you improve your characters’ development? Filling out the character development questionnaire is just the start. Once you’re confident that each and every character has a solid need/goal, you’ll need to think about their involvement in the script as a whole:
Developing characters is all about challenging yourself to see your characters as complex individuals. It’s also about using your characters to their best potential in order to enhance the plot. But how can you see past what you have already put on the page?
The WHAT IF method…
Ask lots of questions of your characters. Brainstorm. Go wild. Let go of what you have already subscribed your characters to in the script, and see if any other ideas might offer new or improved directions for plot threads.
It might just be a case of strengthening the connections/plot threads you already have, or you may find that you stumble across something that will really shake up your story in an interesting and beneficial way.
It’s difficult to give examples of this, because the questions will be different and unique for every original script’s story and characters. But some of the general what ifs might include:
Again, it’s difficult to set it out like this, because there will no doubt be more specific questions and development ideas for every individual script. But the list above is there as inspiration to get you thinking about ‘how to think differently’ about your script and its characters. Read more on developing ideas here.
Of course, it’s difficult to analyse your own script and characters in this way, because as writers you become very attached to your work. This is why feedback is essential, be it from friends, family, peers or professionals.
Just make sure that you ask friends, family and peers for honest opinions about the characters and how the story plays out. Ask them to make a list of questions and/or bullet points, as this will focus their attention on critiquing.
As a script reader and editor, I’m often told that my speciality is character development, and I think this is because I am really interested in people. People and psychology fascinate me; personalities, motivations, reasons for behaviours, the things/emotions people go through, the challenges people face, and of course the emotions people cause in others; the sad or uplifting messages/emotions stories can instil in people who read/watch them, can be just as fascinating.
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