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How to Develop Characters for a Screenplay

October 18, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 65

Character Development is one of most important aspects of writing a screenplay. I actually consider it to be the most important.

The development of a good character is essential for any screenplay to work, whether it be for the big screen, a television series, or for the theatre.

I know screenwriters that are incredible story tellers yet they just don't know how to develop there characters. This leaves the characters absent and detached from the flow of the story.All this is simply because they haven't spent the necessary time doing research and building up their characters before writing their screenplay.

A truly good character can make an average screenplay a great screenplay. So I'm going to go through five points that I think are essential when developing characters in a screenplay.

Character Research

When developing your characters you should always start by thoroughly researching them. Think about who your characters are and why.

This may feel like a tedious task but if you've done good character research then the rest of character development will be much easier for you

Like every script yours will have a main character. You've already got the idea for your story and you'll most likely know everything your main character is going to do, but that isn't enough.

If your story consists of the main character becoming the world's greatest acrobat, do you know exactly the rigours and problems that an acrobat would have to go through on a day to day basis in order achieve this goal? I'll be surprised if you do without being an acrobat yourself.

You will need to know what the character's drive is. What forces them to strive to achieve their goal everyday? What problems do they have? Why do they do this? Why do they do that?

Questions like this are what your research is all about. If you answer all these questions then you're well on your way to developing a good character for your screenplay

A lot of screenwriter's characters will possess traits and habits of people they already know. Your friend may pull a face when asked anything personal; your Grandma might have her ornaments facing a certain direction.

Traits like this are what screenwriters use to create their characters in any script. It's very rare that a character totally from thin air.

When researching a character the Internet is obviously the ideal place to do it. I personally reel off no end of print outs and then I go through pick and choose the aspects that I want to incorporate into my screenplay.

You need to be careful though. You don't want to put every single task of a profession into your screenplay. There are some things your audience would rather not know about.

Unfortunately there isn't a step by step guide on how to perfectly research a character for your script but if you answer the questions I've posed to you above then you'll have a great base to build your character on.

Character Background

As you begin to develop the characters in your script you need to consider their background. A characters background is very much part of their personality and image.

If you introduce this background it will help the audience to understand why the characters are why they are. If your character has grown up through a particular hard time in society this may make them less emotional as they meet tragic events throughout your screenplay. Get the picture?

When writing your screenplay you need to consider your characters cultural background such as ethnicity, religion, education, social standing, etc.

All these things will have an impact on your character's personality. Revealing some of these things to your audience will really strengthen their presence in your screenplay.

If you think about a recent book you have read you'll probably remember that a character's background was revealed to you at some point which then gives you a certain mental image of that character. That's what you're aiming for.

When developing your character you will also need to consider the time period of which your screenplay is set. Most screenwriters will set their script in the current time period as it's a lot easier for the audience to relate to how they talk and behave.

When setting your screenplay in the past or future you will need to consider how the dialogue is/was different and how your character will speak and the social do's and don'ts of that time period.

The time period of your script also determines things as simple as the clothes your character will wear. These are all things you need to think about.

Main Character

The first and most important point of your main character is that they should never be perfect. The main character in your script must have some underlying issues or visible imperfections in order for you to create a good story around these.

Personally I always prefer to try and build sympathy for my main character whenever I write a screenplay. Think of your most common story, a man's prized possession is taking away from him and the audience feels sorry for him.

The audience then wills the man on as he fights to win this back or take revenge. It's a common theme and one that works well. You don't have to follow this exact model of course but I'm just showing you how building sympathy attaches your audience to the main character.

Another point I always try and teach people when writing a script is that they make sure their main character is involved in the events happening around them. Don't have your main character just stand and watch.

This way you can bring in their reactions and actions. You can develop your character by illustrating their feelings when something happens to them in your script. This also helps your story to tick along nicely.

Building Up Your Character

To build up the characters within your script you should use the below points. We've touched on these earlier on but I want summarise these for you.

- Characters Motivation

Why does the character want to achieve their goal? What makes them go to the lengths or non-lengths that they do? The motivation of the characters within your script will help the audience relate to them.

- Background

A character's past will provide a great setting for your screenplay. This will influence how your characters act throughout the script

- Personal Outlook

The characters in your script should have a unique view and attitude towards things. People in the real world do so your characters should do too.

- Actions

Your characters actions will explain more about their personality than any words will do. The audience will judge your characters more on how they act in your screenplay. These actions will help to create a better image of the character.

- Supporting Cast

You need a good supporting cast in your screenplay as one good character doesn't make a story. However, you need to be careful not to have too many characters as this will prevent your audience from getting attached to the more important ones.

I personally like to start with about four well developed characters. This gives me plenty opportunities to have interplay throughout my script.

Characters should be similar as well as different. That's important to remember.

Character Relationships

I've left the hardest part till the end. Relationships are hard in real life never mind creating them in a screenplay.

This is where a lot of screenwriters fail. Good character relationships can make a screenplay; they can be the difference between your script making it.

Now you need to realise that all scripts base their relationships on one of the following. Doing this makes building even the most complex relationship a lot easier

- Common Bond

The characters in your script have a common interest. Something they both care about that makes them stick together.

You would use this when you have to characters that you want to stick together throughout your script.

- Conflict of Interests

The total opposite of the first one. If your characters relationship is built on this then we will clash throughout over the conflict of interest.

An easy example is, your main character wants to save the world and the villain wants to takeover it.

- Contrasting Personalities

This is where your characters are total opposites yet each characters qualities compliment the other as your screenplay plays out. Think of this as kind of the good cop, bad cop scenario

One character plays everything to the letter of the law and the other just goes by their gut instinct.

Two different characters like that always seem to strengthen each others individual character in a screenplay.

I find its one method that always works well as it gives you a great scope for your characters.

- Affect of the Relationship

This relationship base can be involved with the previous three. Here the relationship changes the characters involved in one way or another whether that be for better or worse.

At the end of your screenplay your characters personality will have changed in someway by being involved in the relationship.

And that's it really for the characters relationships. I'll just reiterate that strong character relationships really can be the difference between a blockbuster script and a flop.

Hope this helps you to write a successful screenplay.

I'm Adam author for Here you'll find more helpful articles like the this one that give you tips and advice on how to write a good screenplay.

We've been on all the courses and spent the time learning screenwriting techniques and now we want to share this knowledge with everyone else.

Unlike most other online resources we want to save you the time learning so we strive to give you quick and simple screenwriting advice.

Plus it's all FREE! So please pay us a visit at

To view this particular article in more detail visit our complete screenplay Character Development pages

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