The Four Keys to Great Characters

There are many writers who ignore taking the time to really get to know their characters intimately.  For characters to stand out, you need to do an in-depth character background, on each character, so you know them inside and out, including their detailed background, flaws and strengths.


Know your character’s morals, upbringing, and education and ‘core’ values are essential to writing their dialogue and reactions.  You don’t need to worry if these details make to the scene and page, but as a writer you do need to know who they are and how they would ‘react’ in most situations.   The most important element is to include the character ‘flaw’ which makes them stand out ‘emotionally’ to the audience. Once they get what’s troubling them and can relate and start to route for them.  It is always the ‘human flaw’ that the audience remembers the most about the characters.  And how they overcome those ‘flaws’ in the end.



KEY ONE – Limit the number of characters.   There should be only four or five tops main and secondary characters at the most for a screenplay.  Remember, there is a character ‘arc’ (how the character grows and changes) for each of the main character and this takes time.  The more characters you include, the less screen time they have and the less ‘developed’ they can become.  Less is better in a strong story!


KEY TWO – Complete the In-depth Character Background process.  I use a three page in-depth detailed Character background sheet to address all the key traits of a character before the writing starts.  This ensures that you know them intimately, how they think, act, and where they came from instinctively, so you know how the will ‘talk’ and act for each scene and during each crisis.   Even if this information doesn’t make it to the script, it is your job as a writer to know ever detail about this person and their past.  So don’t skip this critical step or you will have trouble in the writing elsewhere.


KEY THREE – Include the Character Flaw – The most important trait of a character is the character flaws.  All great characters, good or evil have ‘inner’ flaws and insecurities.  This is what the audience wants to see addressed in a move and remember most about the film.  What causes them to get caught in a situation and stay there till it’s hashed out is your job as a writer.  Show this ‘flaw’ in the first act what is haunting them at their core.  But more commonly, you can then also show what they are ‘good’ first before this flaw is addressed.  That tells the audience why we are watching this person.  But it’s the flaw that the audience will remember most, and learn from themselves.


KEY FOUR  – Know the Character arc – Make sure the story plot address and gnaws at the characters ‘inner flaw’ which is the ‘tick’ that forces them to change and grow by addressing the ‘outer’ story (plot) conflict.    This will slowly take place and grow during each scene, when confronted, until the flaw is finally addressed in the end of the film and overcome.  This ‘flaw’ is what the audience identifies with most in great characters.   The more you can combine both the ‘inner flaw’ with the ‘outer story plot’ and plot goals, the strong a story you have. That’s what makes great character writing and a great story.

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