Character development: How do you develop characters? 4

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Are your characters 2-dimensional?

Are your characters 2-dimensional?

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:

  • Character?
  • Want/need/obligation?
  • Inner/Outer?
  • Opposition?
  • Inciting incident/catalyst for change?
  • Decision under pressure?
  • Course of action embarked upon?
  • Point of change?
  • Crisis?
  • Climax?
  • Resolution?

  • Then onto the sorts of questions that may be raised by a script reader whilst analysing your characters:

  • Are these characters flawed enough?
  • Are these characters too cliché?
  • Can I identify the protagonist’s want/need early enough?
  • Is this need/issue/problem conveyed in the best way possible?
  • Is there both an inner and an outer need/goal?
  • Do I like/feel empathy towards these characters?
  • Do I believe in these characters – are their dialogue and actions convincing?
  • Do they go through enough “stuff” on their journey?
  • Does this “stuff” challenge/inform/change them enough?
  • Does their resolution feel pertinent and satisfying?

  • 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:

  • Do they represent their character type well (protagonist/antagonist)?
  • Are they cliché/stereotyped – could they surprise us more? Read more about this here.
  • Do their behaviours/actions make sense the whole way through?
  • Are their behaviours/actions pertinent to their back story and relevant to their need/goal?
  • Do their behaviours/actions impact upon the protagonist/plot in some way?
  • Do they develop/arc in some way as a result of their involvement in the story?
  • Do they get their comeuppance (in the case of antagonists) or their release (protagonist)?

  • 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?

    question mark

    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:

  • What if my character/s had a deeper reason to do ‘that’?
  • What happens if a different message or theme is focussed on?
  • What happens if I up the stakes even more for my character/s?
  • What if my character/s reacted differently at ‘that point’ in the script?
  • What if my character/s made a different decision at ‘that point’ in the script?
  • What if things were so much worse for my character in the opening/middle/crisis point of the script?
  • What if something shocking happens to a character, that affects everything/everyone else?
  • What happens if an event/scene takes a different direction?

  • 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.

    If you’d like to chat about my feedback services, then feel free to check out the services page and you can contact me here.

    Want to come to London Screenwriters’ Festival? Use my special discount code: SOFLUID-16X to get a £23 discount!

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