There is a journey written within every story told. The voyage these characters make externally and internally makes that journey so memorable. Writing a screenplay is no different, other than the format, but what makes a great story is creating compelling characters and remarkable character development. Whether you’re designing lead characters, supporting characters, or even minor characters, the path to a good story is good character development.
Character development is the foundation of every great and unforgettable character. Some of films greatest stories hyper-focus on this aspect of storytelling to create thought-provoking tales that have affected generations. We’ve all watched our favorite TV show or movie and enjoyed how the characters progress. However, sometimes we gravitate toward the protagonists, antagonists, or even minor characters. Therefore, feelings and details about their lives and internal struggles matter. This guide will be helpful for your writing needs and manifest your award-winning screenplay.
Yet, let’s find the exact definition of “character development.”
Character Development: What Is That?
Character development creates a believable and realistic fictional character by giving them emotional complexity. Consequently, making this level of complexity will help the audience understand their relevance to the story. That relevance will dictate the character’s purpose concerning the tv show or movie. For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker wants to leave Tatooine to journey through the stars and find himself. The audience sees the beginning of Luke’s character development when he encounters Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the master tells him of his father, Anakin Skywalker.
Understanding what qualities and characteristics are needed will make a character appear three-dimensional and relatable. Essentially, writers need to know everything that makes their character tick. Deep knowledge of your character is also essential in fiction, drama, and non-fiction works. In addition, the writer is going to have to spend showing who the characters are by exposing their qualities, backgrounds, desires, flaws, and motives. Doing so is a vital part of storytelling because the audience should be able to distinguish between each character.
Archetype: What Type of Character
As you begin to map out the characters in your tv show or movie, you need to be aware of archetypes and how to use them to your advantage. An archetypal character is one defined by its plot function. For example, Luke Skywalker is the Hero. At the same time, the Wise Elder is Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode 1: A New Hope. Han Solo is the Adventurer, while some can argue that Leia Organa turns from a Damsel to a Warrior at specific points in the story. Finally, the villain is Darth Vader, but you get the point.
Archetypes exist because each symbolizes a part of our minds but turns into a character. What you want to avoid is stereotypes if it’s crucial to the plot. It’s a general rule that writers should avoid stereotypes. However, it’s worth contemplating where they can help support shortcuts to character development if needed. Stereotypes can be significant for secondary characters if built upon established personalities common in a specific environment.
The next logical step on your journey in building character development is exploring their internal and external characteristics.
Internal and External: Getting to Know Your Character
The first step in building a character is knowing who they are internally. Your character is like a real natural person. They have goals, thoughts, and emotions that are all their own. Learning more about them will enable you to write in your protagonist’s voice. Consequently, the portrayal of your characters will be much more accurate than if you were guessing what they’re like on the inside. The goal is to create a character or characters with a unique personality and voice.
The outer part is equally important when figuring out a character’s internal traits. A well-developed character (or characters) has unique, distinctive characteristics that help them stand out from all the others in the story. In addition, they should have traits that make your reader remember them as individual characters. These traits can include speech patterns, how they look or dress, or even how they walk. Therefore, the writer can show external development as the struggles and scarring during their journey affect them. It allows the audience to witness transformative experiences that make them who they are on the outside.
However, every good story that propels forward is an excellent opportunity for the characters to discover their motivation.
Motivation: The Characters’ Goals
Every good character development must have a goal in mind that’ll be reached by the end of the story. Frodo from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy would stay in the shire if he weren’t motivated to leave. Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger would never have become Captain America if he was “okay” with being bullied. The protagonist, antagonist, and even some minor characters deserve to be motivated to reach a goal.
Character development is discovering insight into your character’s purpose in the story. Questions like “Why do they need to appear?”, “What do they want to accomplish?” and “Will they help/hurt the protagonist?” are areas worth exploring. Give your characters opportunities to show how they can survive their story. The character or characters wouldn’t be in the story unless they wanted something essential and there was an obstruction to them achieving it. The obstruction part of your character development is critical because it invites conflict.
Conflict: Making Your Character Fight for It
Conflict in a story can open the door to some interesting plot points. Motivation and goals can be pointless or boring without addressing obstacles and conflict. Why should an audience care about a character if there are no challenges? For example, Neo from The Matrix wants to free everyone from the Matrix. What’s stopping him is his self-doubt and robots out to destroy him and his companions.
A character’s conflict can be external, a force outside standing in the way, or internal. Establishing the inner conflict the individual faces will drive their actions throughout the story. Determining the source of your character’s central conflict will help build your character’s arc accordingly.
Character Arc: Building Their Journey
A vital aspect of character development is considering the characters’ arc. A character arc is a change a character undertakes throughout a story. Essentially, there should be a notable difference when your story concludes. A compelling character arc helps the audience connect with and understand the characters. For this reason, it allows them to see where the characters came from and how they got to their final destination.
In many cases, character arcs are not favorable. Accordingly, plenty of TV shows and movies have centered around characters becoming darker or more negative.
The easiest way to develop a decent character arc is to think of stages the character goes through emotionally throughout the story. These are called “Acts” and have been very effective for a cohesive storytelling experience. The writer can have three acts, but some have used more to tell their story. Ideally, 3-4 act stories work well and hit home with what the writer tries to convey. Character arcs are crucial to most decent stories, but sometimes flat characters can derail that.
Flat Characters: What to Avoid in Character Development
Flat characters tend to have little to no internal conflict. They have no character development and lack a multi-faceted personality. These types of characters are shallow, undeveloped, and created to interact with other characters to further the plot of a story. Consequently, flat characters have little to no backstory or motivations outside of providing the needs of the plot. However, they can sometimes work as minor characters in a comedy.
In some cases, they are also known as static characters because they remain the same throughout the story. However, flat characters can also be vital because they contrast the story’s three-dimensional or ’round’ characters.
Three-Dimensional Characters: Bringing Character Development to life
Everyone needs to be complex, with different layers and a personality—lead characters who are three-dimensional and will change. Furthermore, the audience will be even more intrigued and interested in their stories. Also known as a well-developed characters, they are someone who the audience cares about and will remember for a long after finishing the story. Developing characters can be one of the most challenging aspects of writing.
Writers want to make their characters as authentic as possible. Still, they must also fit into the storyline without seeming forced or out of place. This process involves giving the depth of the characters— flaws and all—to keep audiences interested. In addition, the more you know and the time spent bringing your character to life, the more the audience will react to certain situations believably.
Developing your character takes time and a decent quantity of blood, sweat, and tears. Creating characters for your screenplay that stand out can initially seem daunting. Still, it will turn your story into an intriguing tale. All writers agree that character development is critical to writing a winning script. It’s hard to master, but planning and understanding your characters can never go wrong. In the end, it’ll be worth the task.