Fine Tune The Characters In Your Screenplay & Make Them Shine


We know that the main goal of your main character in your screenwriting is the rejection of the status quo and the transition into the new world; the new normal. This facilitates change and growth and audience satisfaction.

Acceptance of things they cannot change and maintaining the status quo, is also a character change reflected in their attitudes. This defines their new world, although to an observer, the world they inhabit appears superficially unchanged.

Main characters don’t always have to undergo wholesale internal change. They can also facilitate external change in their societies.

Spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth are essential goals for a character, whether they be conscious or subconscious, forced or by one’s own volition. By the end of the story, they will be conscious as your character settles into the new world.

Attainment of a tangible object is merely the first stage of a character’s growth. A sense of achievement. This includes getting the girl/guy, the promotion, or the trophy at the end of the race.

Many characters fail in a film script because they don’t undergo both stages of growth. What have they learned? How have they changed internally? These two key stages of growth are essential for creating balanced characters. A character can sag and feel hollow and unbalanced if they only pursue and achieve one level of growth. The second act is where this sagging commonly occurs because the screenplay is more focussed on action than character development.

When constructing your main character ask them, and indeed yourself, the following questions:

What is their predicament? What do they want? What to they need? eg in Pretty Woman Vivian (Julia to you and me) needs money to pay the rent.

How do they know this is what they need? What is the higher truth of the matter? Try eviction if they don’t pay rent by yesterday. But she also needs a personal goal such as following her calling in life after gaining self respect.

Is this all they need? For the short term, yes. But it’s not all they need. What is their higher purpose? What are they afraid of? Success? Failure? Commitment? Being Alone?

How do they react to their perceived needs? Practically and emotionally. Vivian immediately swings into action by  hooking a trick; Richard Gere. Emotionally, she becomes increasingly disinterested in money to the point of rejecting Richard’s offer of buying her a condo.

What would your character be if they didn’t feel they way they do? How would they feel? How would they respond? This a key tenet in character development. Show us, don’t tell us. It’ll help you make your character feel believable and avoid the trap of incongruous actions.

Once you have a grasp of the internal workings of your character, their natural actions will follow to illuminate the central theme.

It’s always worth spending time in truly understanding what drives your main characters before you start writing your movie script. Plot points and action sequences can easily be rewritten without greatly affecting the main character. However, if the screenwriter doesn’t know their characters well enough, the audience will have a tough time understanding them too.

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