Screenwriting and Character Development

Are the most successful screenplays character driven?

Every screenplay must start with four basic elements, which are; Plot, Structure, Characters and Theme. Without strong characters to move your story forward, your screenplay will fall flat.   

Every screenplay needs a protagonist. The protagonist (Hero) is the essential character in your story that creates/resolves conflict and moves the story forward. The protagonist must seek something of value or understanding and want it badly enough, that nothing will stand in their way.

During their struggle and pursuit in finding resolution, the protagonist must feed and thrive on their determination all the way to the end. The conflict that is introduced in your story must require the protagonist to make decisions and take action that moves your story forward. Without these building blocks, the protagonist would not have the elements required for a successful story.

Your story must also include an antagonist. The antagonist (Villain) is the character that creates challenge and turmoil for the protagonist. The characteristics/desires of your antagonist must meet or exceed those of your protagonist in order for your story to have strong conflict. Typically the antagonist in any story will serve as the villain and stop at nothing to hinder the protagonist from reaching their goal. The more the protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched (good and evil) the more compelling your characters will appear to your audience.

I’ve read articles that indicate and even suggest that the proper method to character development starts with the name of your characters. Once you establish the names, you then build on their biographies and background to round them out. I have to disagree with this method. If this is the textbook method to character development, many screenwriters will struggle at creating unique and compelling characters.

In order to create realistic and compelling characters, you must look outside the norm, outside of the classroom and the books.

The ultimate goal in screenwriting is creating an original story, containing memorable characters with unique traits. Your characters should have quirks that set them apart from other characters in your story. In order to truly develop interesting and unique characters, you must consider the opportunities around you. Involve everyday life. Every trip to the store, every vacation, every family gathering; analyze and study the people you come into contact with and remember their stories. The names can come later…

Take the time to talk with people you may not be too fond of. They may have traits or quirks that would work perfect with your story’s antagonist. Take note on what moves you, what annoys you. The next person you meet and talk with may have qualities and mannerisms you could borrow for building on your next protagonist. However you choose to approach your characters development, each character that you create will likely contain some expression from your life. Outside influence is good.

Some of the best ideas for characters come from real people.

Unique Qualities, Interesting Traits = Memorable Characters

David L. Spies

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