Writing realistic, complex characters can be a rewarding challenge that makes your script come to life. Painting rich lives, wants, and fears for your characters allows you to immerse yourself in the world you’ve created. Digging deeper into the ways your characters connect and what drives them can guide you forward when you’re stuck on where to take your script. Here are a few exercises to take your screenplay’s characters to the next level!
Nail Down Their Perspective
Develop your character’s unique voice. Try to inform it by their age, status, profession, backstory, and history. When you picture them, do they move a certain way? How do they interact with the world?
For a good example of this, look to Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth. While Jessica Walter’s flawless delivery steals the show, each line is written from a point of view that is laden with status and her relationships to her family members.
Figure out what your characters’ series wants are. What are their episodic wants, greatest fears, and fatal flaws? Think through what they need (what thematic lessons should they learn as they grow and change through their arc?) versus what they want. These motivations are helpful to revisit when you’re stuck and not sure where to take your plot next. As you build your characters’ backgrounds, keep a document to refer back to as you write.
Draw a Character Map
See how your characters connect each other by creating a web of your world. Start with your protagonist at the center, and then branch off with your other main and side characters. Write their relationships with each other, how they feel about one another, their core motivations, and what Character A wants from Character B, and vice versa. Once you’ve connected your main characters to your protagonist, try connecting them with each other.
Drawing a character map allows you to visualize the connections of your world and spark new ideas to drive your script forward. You may realize, in crafting your web, that two discrete side characters would have a fun dynamic: find a way to connect them! If your web is a house party, this is your “I didn’t know you knew each other!” moment.
Monologue in Their Voice
If you’re stuck trying to figure out how a specific character would react in a situation, let yourself experiment by monologuing in their voice. Like ourselves, our characters have rich internal dialogues and complicated emotions, and as a result, there are many ways to write a genuine and interesting reaction. Freely verbalizing from their point of view is like a sandbox–it’s a great way to work through several options and can help you break through an initially obvious reaction to develop your characters in a more nuanced and specific way.
One of the most rewarding parts of writing can be creating a character and seeing them grow as you flesh them out. Realizing your characters beyond the ways they serve your story is a helpful tool in developing their unique points of view. Delving into your characters freely with a few questions like these can help you see them as real, complicated people:
- When did they cry last?
- What’s their favorite movie?
- What memory from childhood sticks with them today?
- What’s their astrological sign?
- What’s their ideal family night?
- Is there something they’ve never told anybody?
- How are they similar to me?
- How are they different from me?