Writing a successful screenplay comes down to the characters. Not only the motivations that drive their actions, but also the impression they leave both on other characters and the audience alike.
Every screenwriter is aware of a positive or negative impression a character leaves behind. Positive impressions are relatively easy to create. Such characters basically need to be kind, happy, helpful, genuine and elevating the mood of a situation. Negative situations are a bit more nuanced. It’s worth noting that good characters don’t always leave good impressions behind or vice versa.
Negative impressions can be intentional or not. A screenwriter can use negative impressions to contrast in likable characters. This is especially true if a character is either unaware or partially aware, of the impression they leave behind.
Negative impressions aren’t always a bad thing either. If film audiences or other characters in your screenplay engage with them, they create interest, tension and conflict.
Impressions are a form of self-preservation and a way of controlling a given situation. They are not necessarily defining personality traits, but rather character nuances. Use them wisely.
Let’s look at ways to enhance your screenwriting by examining the negative feelings certain characters create:
1) Lack Of Awareness
This often occurs when a character can’t or won’t perceive the impact their words or actions on others. A character who won’t show awareness is typically a narcissist, egotistical. In its milder form, a character who can’t display awareness is often self-centered or lacks social skills.
If your character ain’t keepin’ it real, your audience will tune out. Every word or action must be purely motivated. Characters must mean what they say and what they do without an ulterior motive. A lack of sincerity can range from a mawkish emotional response to an exaggerated concern with another person’s predicament.
This occurs when a character displays excessive confidence in their skills, abilities or knowledge. Arrogance is the most extreme form of hubris. It is one thing to be sure of oneself and another to display hubris. The wrath of Greek gods was often spurned when a mortal displayed a lack of humility. Hubris often stems from a deep-seated insecurity. Characters with hubris project they are the best when deep down they fear irrelevance.
These barbed comments are often thinly disguised as jokes. Dialogue such as “good effort given your skill level” can be hurtful even if intended as a pep talk or compliment. Subtle putdowns can be endearing, playful, or even flirtatious, Protracted putdowns can make an enemy out of a friend.
We’ve all met a hypocrite. You know what I’m talking about. The loud-mouthed anti-smoking disciple who has a quick smoke in the back alley when nobody’s watching History is not kind to hypocrites. However, they do make fascinating characters.
A breach of trust, whether deliberate or not, can sour a relationship. Trust is based on integrity, reliance and keeping your word. A breach of trust occurs when a character does not live up to these expectations.