In Act One, your reader meets your main character. They form an opinion of who that characters is. Watching your character make decisions, face obstacles and takes actions — no matter how small and seemingly insignificant — enables your reader to hone and refine that first impression.
How do you keep your reader invested in your character? How do you continue to deepen the reader’s relationship with that character?
Here are four things you can do to keep your reader’s interest:
1. Get the Reader Behind Your Character.
It is essential that your reader roots for your main character. In order to root for your main character, your reader must know what they want.
It is essential that at the end of Act One, your character has a clearly defined goal. This is your main character’s “Clear Want.” It is your plot. It is the dramatic engine that drives the rest of your script.
It needs to be made crystal clear stated in your script — by the main character or someone else. Do not be coy. Don’t leave it up to your reader to infer what this might be. State it clearly and unequivocally.
To make sure that you, the writer, know what that goal is, write out this sentence:
“At the end of act one, my character wants __________.”
Once the reader knows and understand this, your reader will root for your main character.
2. Show Your Character in Action (big and small)
Before you get to your main character’s clear want at the end of Act One, your reader is going to get to know your character. Once you’ve presented the traits of your character, you want to demonstrate those traits in a way that makes your reader root for your main character.
As early as you can in your script, put your character in one or more of these situations :
– Your character is picked on, screwed over, humiliated or harmed, but keeps going and stands up for themselves. (We like people who believe in themselves; and we empathize with those who are dismissed and demeaned by others.)
– Your character is trying hard to improve but no one will allow him or her to realize their dream. (We, too, often feel misunderstood by those around us.)
– Your character is passionate about a goal. (Determination wins over an audience.)
– Your character is funny. (Audiences will forgive anything if a character can make jokes about it.)
– Your character is uniquely clever or skilled. (We admire and trust people who have unique talents we admire. We’ll allow them to take us with them on their journeys.)
– Your character is humble about him/herself and makes jokes at his/her own expense. (We like people who are self-deprecating and don’t let their egos swell.)
– Your character helps others. (Everyone likes a person who is kind and selfless.)
The idea here is to create situations that will demonstrate your main character’s positive qualities in such a way that your reader will like your characters and want to get to know them more by “hanging out with them” (continuing to read your script.)
3. Add an internal layer.
What’s going on inside your character’s head is just as important as what’s going on outside. You want to allow your reader to “get inside” your main character’s head.
Whenever possible, find ways to demonstrate the emotions and internal struggles that your character is facing. Try to find one big personal problem that your character only reveals to themselves or possibly one other person.
When you determine this problem, don’t be subtle. Declare it in your script. Have either your main character say it to someone or have someone say it to him/her.
Remember, that this problem will need to be resolved at the climax of the movie – or after – with a cathartic moment that resets the main character’s existence and point of view.
4. Show Different Aspects of Your Character.
The more time we spend with people, the more we learn about them. As your script moves along, the reader should be learning more about your main character. There are many ways to accomplish this:
– Have a moment where the character goes against their broad stroke. Even better, have your character react to his or his impulsive behavior.
People are not consistent. We are motivated by many things, sometimes things that are even a mystery to ourselves. When your main character has a moment like this, allow them to be surprised. Their response will tell us something about them. They might be pleased. They could be terribly ashamed after. They might be sad or filled with regret. Whatever you choose, it’s an opportunity to deepen your reader’s connection to your characters.
– Allow your character to have a private moment to themselves. How do they react when they are all alone and no one is watching?
– Show how your character reacts differently around different people. This shows us who our character thinks s/he is in relationship to others.
– Give your character a big ethical decision that needs to be made
– Force them to have to make moral choices that will have profound effects upon them and/or others.
– Put them in life or death situation
– Put them in situations where they are either way out of their league or they are a fish-out-of-water.
5. Keep it real.
Make sure your character behaves realistically and makes believable choices. Make sure that his/her choices track from scene to scene and throughout the story.
If you need inspiration when creating your characters, don’t be afraid to base them on real people. If you can combined characteristics from a few different people to create a unique and original character, even better!