By Brock Cooper (doddleNEWS)
In Part I of Great Characters, I told you what made a great character in your screenplay. In this article, I’m getting down to brass tacks on exactly how to do that in your screenplay. Your characters are your focal point and this is true in every great script. Strong main characters are what make people stay in their seats… unless you’re Michael Bay, in which it’s giant robots and explosions.
We’re not all lucky enough to be him, so lets examine the nuts and bolts of a character and how to make them memorable.
Film is a visual medium, but the dialogue your character has and the interaction with other characters make up a big part of who your character is. Too often writers will have a concept of who they want the character to be, but don’t match the dialogue to the character. For example, if you have an educated Ivy League professor, then his dialogue should reflect that. You shouldn’t have him speaking like a hillbilly, unless he’s an Ivy League hillbilly professor.
Also, if your character is supposed to be witty and fun, then pepper his dialogue with jokes and sarcasm. There’s nothing funny about comic relief that is boring. Villains that are supposed to be intimidating and cruel, need to have that edge in their dialogue.
A screenwriter has great leeway on how the character’s world looks. The director and producer make the ultimate decision based on budget, etc., but when you’re writing the screenplay, the sky is the limit. A good scene description shows the environment of your characters. Would Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs have been more intimidating if instead of the clear screen between him and Starling, there were regular bars? The screen provided a full visual without fear of him reaching through. It showed that he didn’t need brute strength, his mind was sharp enough to disarm Starling and everyone else.
Your characters’ reactions to the environment around them also help show their state of mind. If his father abused your character, then he might have a cold reception when meeting his girlfriend’s dad, or maybe he refuses to wear a belt because that’s what he was beaten with. Perhaps he’s poor, but drives an expensive car because he doesn’t want anyone to know. Maybe he has a secret drug habit and is constantly itching his arms. It’s the little things that bring out the personality of your character.
I personally believe that one of the most important tools in creating a great character is a detailed backstory. Even if only 10 percent of the information makes it into the film, it gives you a glimpse of the person as a whole. To the audience, the way your character flips open a lighter might just a cool move, but in your history he does it because that’s how his father did it. That point may not be important to the film or plot, but it’s something that helps make your character more human too you.
Keep Yourself Out of It
Unless the character is loosely based on you, you can’t let the character react and do the things you do. It’s easy for a writer to get lost into a story that he or she is creating, or even put their face on the main protagonist, but if you’re character is a war-hardened vet, then he can’t think like a 22-year-old accountant. If he or she does, then the character won’t be believable.
If you don’t know how to think like a battle-hardened vet, then do some research. Do some interviews, read some books, and watch some movies until you’re confident you can do the character justice. Ultimately, you’re creating a person from scratch. These characters have histories and flaws just like everyone else. The more human you make them, the better they will be.