Hal Croasmun writes on assessing the quality of your characters in your screenplay.
In the first five pages of your screenplay, we should see an extremely interesting lead character. Great lead characters make great screenplays. There is something about them that is so interesting and entertaining that they carried the movie by themselves.
1. UNIQUE IN SOME WAY, YET FAMILIAR
You need a blend of familiar and unique. If a character is too unique, no audience will be able to relate to them. On the other hand, too much familiar and the character becomes boring. The key is to have characters where the familiar feels right for the story and the unique part adds something really special.
2. MULTI-DIMENSIONAL WITHOUT BEING CONFUSING
Characters should feel like real people who have a variety of different things going on in their lives. At the same time, a screenplay isn’t big enough to encompass all of the internal activity a real person might have. Bring each character down to three or four major traits that fully express their essence.
3. FLAW THAT IS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY
When a character flaw is well-chosen, it can add so much to a story. It gets in the way at just the right moment. It increases our concern for the character and gives them something to overcome. But it also has significant meaning within the story, not just to the character.
4. EXTERNAL GOAL, INTERNAL NEED
Your protagonist needs to have an external goal that they are going for and an internal need they must resolve in order to become more fully who they want to be in life. Both motivate the protagonist to take action.
The external goal gives a reason for the action in the story. The internal need is usually in opposition with the external goal and means the protagonist will need to find some way to align the two or give up one by the end of the story.
5. SUBTEXT/ HIDDEN WORLD
I don’t know a single human being that doesn’t have an inner world they aren’t fully expressing. Sometimes, that shows up as a secret they are hiding. Other times, it shows as an emotion they aren’t expressing. But it could also be a covert agenda that is a major part of their daily activity, yet is unknown to most people.
Be careful here. You don’t want to have your characters telling their inner world. That is for novel writing. In a screenplay, the inner world needs to be delivered through subtext and well-selected actions.
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