Script instructors Devorah Cutler-Rubinstein and Marilyn Atlas share their insight on creating memorable, fully formed characters.
Like humans, your characters need to be explored psychologically, physiologically and socialogically. What do they think? How do they feel? How do their actions manifest these thoughts and feelings? How does their emotional state unveil through their actions? What is their world view? What is their individuality? Visualize these elements in each scene you write.
Memorable characters must be fascinating, mysterious and relatable.
Explore how your character would react in various circumstances. Bypass the typical, but don’t make them too atypical and alienating to audiences. Reveal their character through actions and choices they make.
What are their light (outer) attributes?
What are their shadow (hidden) attributes?
What are their conscious desires and subconscious inner needs?
What are their wounds/ traumas (inner issues)? These help establish character motivation and help audiences understand where they’re coming from.
What are their vulnerabilities?
What are their passions; positive and negative.
What is their heroic status in terms of their journey?
How do they speak? What do they say versus what they really mean (subtext)? It has been said “God gave man a voice to conceal his thoughts”.
Are they amoral (no morality), moral (good morality) or immoral (bad morality)? Are they morally ambiguous; ie mainly good with bad elements or mainly bad with good elements?
Do they possess greater knowledge (learned information) or wisdom (innate)?
Are they quirky (unusual but lovable traits)?
Play on character contradictions. Give them an atypical characteristic within several typical ones.
Do they have any cultural or ethnic coding? eg. spoilt rich white kid? African American president? Such coding can lead to assumptions audiences can make about a character. How do these assumptions correspond to realities?
What are your characters’ greatest strengths? Greatest weaknesses?
Does your character have dignity? A sense of purpose?
Transform your character from the unconscious (inner needs) to the conscious (outer wants). Move them from a state of disconnection to connection.
How is your character introduced? Via an overt event in a scene or covert?
Remember that life is a mirror of what you dislike in yourself or what issues you need to address.
Your main character must have a goal, a challenge and some sort of change.
What is their modus operandus? Fight, flight, fear or fame?
Characters’ behavior follows a pattern: trauma – wound – need – behavior. The main reactions are fight, flight, fake, freeze or faint; all responses to the primal fear instinct.
What keeps them awake at night? What/who have they not forgiven?