Sean Hinchey, script consultant, discusses how to craft genuine characters that jump off the page.
First, create a real, authentic person. This may sound trite and vague, but the key word here is “person”. The moment you start thinking of them as real people, the easier this process is. Create a document that identifies their strong suits, weaknesses, physical appearance, and what they want out of life.
When you create a new character, you are doing all this. The only difference is that you are developing something from scratch. You can mold this character – this person – into whoever you want them to be.
Second, write up a brief report regarding all of your major characters. It doesn’t have to entail volumes of material, keep it to a single page for each one. However you go about it, make sure that they are real enough that you can picture them sitting across from you. The goal is to create enough of a dossier about your character so that you never get to a point in your script where you say to yourself, “Wow, I don’t know how they would react to this situation.”
Make sure you know enough about this character so that know their strengths and their limitations. To use an example, the main character in The Edge is a billionaire who lives a very privileged life. He enjoys the finer things it has to offer, yet finds himself in a life or death situation when he is stuck in the wild.
How does the writer create a genuine character where you can believe that this man will be able to survive? It’s established early on that he is an avid reader, devouring information that will later prove to be vital to him staying alive. This is one minor characteristic that changes the entire scope of the story. Without that detail, this character never would’ve made it out of the Alaskan wilderness intact.
Third, have a conversation with this character. I’m not suggesting you take this imaginary person out to a restaurant, and get a table for two. You should ask them questions and see what kind of answers you get.
Would this person respond with sarcasm or are they shy? Get a feel for how they would react as they interact with the other characters you will create – or have created – for your script. This will help you craft solid dialogue that will help reveal who they are.