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Screenplay Theory And Techniques Characterisation - Creating Main Characters The Audience Respects

By Expert Author: Joseph Hughes

This article takes an in-depth look at how stories work and what they are made of. It draws inspiration from evolution, psychology, sociology and human behaviour to work out why some stories communicate so much to so many people, from different backgrounds, creeds and cultures, and what makes a universally well-received story or screenplay. In this article we study the often overlooked element of storytelling - characterisation.
A trait that all stories which do not work as well as others share an absence of is having main characters that we don't respect. What do we mean by this and what is the relevance of having characters that we can respect, understand and identify with?
The main characters in a screenplay drive the narrative, through their actions and decisions. People will not engage with characters that they don't understand or respect and consequently they will not understand or respect your screenplay.
In order for audiences to get emotionally involved with a story, they have to be able to project a part of themselves onto your characters. If they don't respect their views and approaches, they cannot project themselves onto the story, and will be uninterested in what happens.
Without understanding or respecting the approach to life that the main characters take in your story, there can be no empathy for them, and so people will not empathise with the characters' plight.
Being able to identify with, sympathise with and engage with the characters in your story, is one of the most important elements to writing a screenplay, and so many films, even with enormous budgets, don't focus enough on creating characters that people can understand and relate to.
By no means do your characters have to be perfect, however. They can be criminals, alcoholics, adulterers or even murderers, and we can still engage with the story, but we have to be able to understand why they do the things that they do and more importantly respect the way they do it; to respect their approach to life. That is why in all good films, even when you have characters who perform morally ambiguous acts, if they have a redeeming trait, for example an underlying set of morals or circumstances which justify the way they behave we can still project ourselves onto them, respect them, and empathise with them.
Study the way the authors and filmmakers have taken the time to introduce the main characters in the following films.
Jack Sparrow in the film Pirates of the Caribbean
John MacClane in the film Die Hard
Tyler Durdan in the film Fight Club
James T. Kirk in the film Star Trek
Philip Marlowe in the film The Big Sleep
Also watch how you can also create great characters over the entire duration of the film, as shown in The Aviator's main character, Howard Hughes, The Shawshank Redemption's Andy Dufresne and T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia.

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