So you’ve chosen your premise, story, characters etc and you’re off to the races writing your screenplay. Moving forward, there’s one thing that every executive stresses when they read an original script: CHARACTER CHARACTER CHARACTER. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times. They want to see compelling characters. But what does that even mean? And how does one accomplish this? Here are three key factors to keep in mind when writing your character.
It’s not enough just to have your character do amazing things, or deliver interesting lines of dialogue. Great characters are defined by their choices. But in order for these choices to be compelling, you have to make sure that when your character is faced with two choices, both choices are bad. A great example can be seen in opening to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. While running through the cave, Indiana Jones’ partner makes it across the gaping hole and takes the whip which he swung across with. Indiana needs the whip in order to swing back across before the door to the cave shuts closed. His partner says, “give me the idol and I’ll give you the whip.” Indiana can either give him the idol and risk him running away with it without giving him the whip, or he can hold on to the idol and risk being trapped in the cave forever. Both choices are bad choices, but he has to make one of them… we all know what happens next. Really pay attention to you character’s choices and focus on creating as many situations within your story where your character is faced a decision between two bad options.
ACTIONS DEFINE CHARACTER (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND)
When fleshing out their story, I hear writers always say, “My character wouldn’t do that.” Unless you are writing a biopic, or already existing characters, don’t get caught up in defining your characters and figuring out who they are before you dive into your story. Start writing your story, and when your character gets to a point where he/she has to make a choice, pick the one that creates the best story, not the one that best agrees with how you defined your character beforehand. If this is a new character that you’ve thought up, figure out what choices he or she that would result in the better story.
YOU ARE YOUR BEST CHARACTER
Draw from your own psyche. Much like how some the best stories are written from “what you know”, the best characters are drawn from the writer’s own personal psyche. What is it that makes you tick as a person? What are the conflicts that you face with yourself on a daily basis? If you can channel this into your own character, it will show on the page and therefore result in a much stronger character.