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Tips For Writing Great Characters For A Screenplay
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Creating original and memorable characters can set a screenplay apart from the pack. Strong characters can help to capture the imagination of viewers and hold their interest long after the movie has ended. And because too often movies wind up filled with the same, stereotypical people that viewers have seen time and time again, they can offer writers an opportunity to stretch beyond the everyday.
Now this doesn't mean that every screenplay should be filled with odd balls and weirdos in order to make it unique. However, when you develop characters, don't be satisfied with just the everyday. Give your characters something special: a unique look, an unusual way of viewing the world or even a quirky mannerism. Find something to distinguish them.
Know Your Characters and Their Backstory
Naturally, the only way you can truly create unique characters is by knowing who they are and where they come from. That means you need to know their backstory.
The backstory doesn't have to be pages and pages of information about each character, it's just that one thing that defines how or why the character moves forward in the story. It may be that the character just lost someone they love (think Tom Hanks in "Sleepless in Seattle") or perhaps they lived a different life (like Clint Eastwood's reformed killer in "Unforgiven").
It's important for the writer to know each of their characters and each character's backstory in order to understand how the character will react to what transpires in the script. What can make or break the story is when a character acts completely contrary to what the audience expects. It can break it if it seems out of place or unreal. It can make it if the change is because the character has grown. This is called the character arc. This arc or growth is an important part of any good story.
When viewers ride along with a character and see the character's view of the world around them change, that's character growth. And that's interesting.
Make Them Believable by Creating Details
Another important step in developing characters is making them believable by giving them personal details that make them human and differentiate them from others. These personal details include things like emotions, imperfections, problems, values and depth.
Yes, you may occasionally want to throw a stereotypical character, like a villain, into your story, especially if you are writing comedy or action. However, consider changing the traditional view of the character by adding something new or different to change him up; think of Robert De Niro's character in "Analyze This."
Keep in mind that each of your primary characters needs a different voice. They should have different points of view and mannerisms so that it is easy to distinguish them from one another. Naturally casting will have a lot to do with how the characters look, but it is your job as a writer to provide them each with a distinct personality. You don't want a bunch of little Stepford Wives in your screenplay.
The beauty of creating real-life three-dimensional characters is when they seem to step off the page. They are people you would like to share time with. That's when you know you've written great characters for your screenplay.
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