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How To Create Believable Characters For Film - Screenwriting Hints

By Expert Author: Jimmy Anderson

If you want your characters to come alive you must know them thoroughly. This is the golden rule. Create a history, including how this person grew up, the influences that shaped their habits, thinking and behavior. What are their weaknesses? Strengths? Secrets?
Secondly, believable characters must change. Character arc is fundamental to story success, which means you must know them not only as they are today but as they will be tomorrow or years from now.
Everything in nature changes, including human beings. There is only one realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same - the realm of bad writing.
Human development on film works the same way it works in real life: through the conflicts and trials that alter our attitudes and choices. Experiences change us. And just as we are forced to make new decisions
and act accordingly, so must your characters if they are to fulfill their role as the primary catalyst in bringing about the conclusion of the story.
Remember Joe Buck, from "Midnight Cowboy"? Joe starts as a naive small town cowboy hopelessly out of his element in New York City. He begins as a boy-child, but the rude awakenings he encounters with Ratso
catapult him into maturity, and by the end of the film, he becomes a responsible friend.
On paper the progression looks something like this: Your protagonist has a goal. He confronts obstacles to this goal (conflict). He probably gets spun around in another direction. He then makes a decision to act, which reveals something about his character. This decision sets in motion another decision from his adversary. It is these decisions, one resulting from another, which propel the screenplay to its ultimate
destination -- the proving of the premise.
If a character occupies the same position at the end as the one he did at the beginning, you need to go back and clarify your story's premise. What is your protagonist out to prove?
Every character carries within the seeds of future growth. A good example is Erin Brokovich. Starting out as a near destitute single mother, her down-to-earth, feisty independence made her what she became later - a relentless defender of common people victimized by corporate greed.
A character can also grow by taking unhealthy actions like Travis Bickle of "Taxi Driver" who falls prey to his own mental obsessions and sinks deeper into psychosis.
Every great film has characters that move steadily from one state of mind toward another. They have to grow, make decisions, and act on them because the writer has given them a clear premise which it is their
function to prove.

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