The reason we write scripts is to see them made into movies. The reason movies get made is because an actor or actress wants to be in your movie. So how do we breathe “life” into our characters to make them appealing to both actors and non-actors alike?
Give your character signature traits
As we discussed in the previous post, it’s important that your main characters have unique and specific emotional attitudes that are easily grasped. Once you have that defined, you want to give your main and supporting characters specific and unique behaviors that define them.
Try to find a unique way for your character to express an idea that the character believes. Give him or her a catch phrase. Find an action – something small and specific – that your character can do when s/he is sad, happy, stressed or distracted. Give them a unique and distinct way of dressing.
Once you have these traits defined, don’t be shy. Repeat them throughout your script. Remind the audience that this is who your character is and this is how s/he behaved. But remember not to overdo it. These actions and behaviors must feel organic. If they feel contrived, they are not working.
If you really want to make use of these significant traits, try to find a way to use these behaviors in unexpected way toward the end of your script that benefits the character.
Often these traits will be seen as “tells,” character quirks or deficiencies. If your character can embrace his or her weirdness and turn that to his or her advantage, it makes us like the character that much more for overcoming his or her shortcomings.
Get into your character’s head
You want your read to empathize with your character and understand why your character acts the way s/he does. To ensure your reader identifies with your character, you need to let the reader know not just what – but how – your character thinks.
The most effective way of doing that is to have another character comment to the main character about the main character’s character and behavior. If you look at most films, there is usually someone in Act One who tells the character what’s wrong with your character or what s/he needs to learn to achieve the character’s clear want.
Have this supporting character observe the main character in action in his normal world (Act One), then have this character analyze the main character and tell the main character why s/he behaves as they do and what they need to fix in themselves.
This enables to the reader to understand how the character makes decision and prioritizes goals. It also allows the reader to understand the character’s short-comings, see the flaws in a character and know the character needs to learn by the end of the movie if s/he is to grow as an individual.
To demonstrate the personal growth within the main character, late in the script – usually somewhere in Act Three (pgs 60-90), have the main character address his/her problems aloud to another character. Have them admit their short-comings to someone. Have them offer an explanation of where they come from and why the character behaves that way. Then allow the main character to forgive themselves and move on, which is usually demonstrated by another character who listens to this confession telling the main character that he or she is okay.
Appeal to an Actor’s Desire to Shine
Actors are experts at portraying emotions. So let them. By giving your characters conflicting desires, opposing emotions and unexpected behaviors you make your characters multi-dimensional and enticing to actors.
When building your story, look for moments where a character can do the opposite of what is expected. This should be different from the character’s paradox. The paradox is an overt contradiction within the character. An opposite reaction is when a character makes a choice to do something that surprises us and in the process reveals another side of that character that is the result of an emotional complexity within the character’s psychology
Try to find moments when your main character can be alone. How does s/he behave when s/he thinks no one is watching? How are they different?
Another way to define your character is to have him or her respond differently to different characters. Different people will elicit different emotional responses from your main character. Find opportunities for your main character to interact with as many different kinds of people as you can, then show the different ways that your main character responds to those people.
As a reader, we are drawn to characters who are heroic. Heroics can be large, sweeping gestures; or they can be small, difficult choices that we would agonize over should we have to make them – like moral dilemmas, ethical conflicts, personal sacrifices and unfamiliar environments. Create “heroic moments” for your characters face situations in which they must make hard choices.
Actor’s yearn for great dialogue.
Actors use their bodies and their words. Along with visually cinematic moments, if you can give your actors great dialogue, they’ll love you forever. Start with a great first line (remember, first impressions!), then keep the good lines coming for the 10-2o pages. If you can come up with smart, clever and witty lines filled with subtext and emotion through all of Act One, you’ll be offering an actor a role that will allow him or her play a wide range of emotions.
When actors can see the multi-dimensional life in your characters, readers will be able to do so as well. When your readers identify and empathize with your characters, they root for those characters. They engage their imaginations in your story, and they experience it themselves as if it were real.
How do you make your characters real? What are the ways that you get to core of who a character is? How do you communicate that information in a script? How do you make your characters and your story to come to life in the imaginations of your readers?