Today's article is extremely important as it is key for successful character development.KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS INSIDE AND OUT
That's today's lesson. You have to develop all your characters well enough they become real people. Except those with one line only, like Officer #1 or Hot-Dog Dude. Those are walking puppets to populate your world.
But your primary and secondary characters must be well developed, there's no way around it. Their actions must be driven by their personality and back story. Even though most of this information will never see the light of day, it is imperative they exist through your characters' actions.
If you need a character to behave a specific way to drive the plot forward, it must be planted beforehand and be in line with the previously established personality, it can't be out of character.
My process starts with ten questions I fished here and there and a couple of reminders that form my own Character Bio Sheet. I like to answer them in excruciating detail.Character Bio Sheet
Answer these questions as fully as possible, especially those about dramatic needs, point of view (their belief system), attitude and their arc.
Respect the "Circle of Being
" a moment in a character's past that justifies their behaviors today.1) Who are they and where do they come? What world is it?
Your basic back story filler. Where and when the character was born, what kind of family and upbringing, his childhood at school, friends and love interests, etc.2) What are their Dramatic needs? (how can it create conflict within the plot?)
What do they want from life? Revenge? A Lover? Fame and Fortune? List all their needs here and use them later to create conflict in your story. For instance, if your protagonist wants revenge, his best friend should tell him to seek peace instead, and so fort.3) What's their point of view (theirbelief system) and again how can it creates conflict within the group and their antagonists.
Simply saying this is what the character believes in, their morality, religious views, political, etc. This is great to pit characters against each other.
In fact, let me take a quick break here to share something a dear teacher kept telling us in his storytelling class: "Nothing is more boring than two characters agreeing about something. Drama comes from conflict, from different ideas, opinions and points of view. Romantic Comedies always match up opposites because otherwise would be boring. Life is boring, but we're not really recreating life are we?
So you can see this point is one of the most important ones from this list. Work on them and always come back to this little topic when you want to spice up two characters' relationship in your story.4) What's their attitude? (Speech pattern goes a long way, give them a unique voice!)
Is your protagonist laid back or paranoid? Why is he like that? Does he have an accent? A special way of talking? How educated he is? Does he use slang or is very formal in his use of language?
All those little details help your character become a real person.5) Circle of Being?
Okay, this is key. This is that ONE event which shapes and sets up your character for your story. It can be something that happened just before your story starts or it can be something that happened years before. For someone who doesn't believe in love anymore it could've been a bad break-up/divorce. If your story is about someone finding their faith it's because someone very dear suddenly died, etc.
For JJ it's her adoptive parents car accident, which happens literally moments before our Mini-Series begin. However you need your characters to act, it needs to be justified by a past event.6) How much do they change? What's their arc? Take a step back, the bigger the change, the more impact this story has on the audience.
Every, and I really mean EVERY character has an arc. The story must mean something to both the audience and your characters, if a character comes out of the story exactly the same way he started, why did we, the audience, bother to invest any interest? It was all for nothing anyway...
Watch movies and read comics, you'll notice every single character has an arc, they learn something with the experience we just witnessed. They find love again, they learn revenge isn't everything, whatever it is, it needs to mean something. It can even be something negative (if you're into those crazy and depressive stories with a sad ending) but something needs to change.
And that goes for EVERY character in your story, not just the protagonist. Obviously the degrees of change will vary from one another, but if you manage to give an arc to every single character your story will elevate to a new level.
I must say, the only good
example of a character that doesn't change at all in recent stories I can think of is the Joker in the latest Batman film. And quoting the director, that was intentional, they wanted to treat the Joker's persona as a force of nature, something unstoppable. You might say Jack Sparrow too, but in reality he's got a big arc, especially if you analyze all three films. Trust me, it's there 7) What is their dramatic function in the story?
Well, we covered that one in last week's article. Why does this character exist in your story? What is his purpose?8) What archetype are they?
Same as above, if you figure out his function, you'll know his archetype(s).9) What are the stakes for your characters?
In order for your character to grow, to change, to complete their arc, they need to risk something for it. It's the ticking clock effect, it's just good drama.
If he's got all the time in the world to evolve, what propels him to do so at this point in his life? What are their stakes if they fail?
Saving the world? Getting the girl? Achieving fame? Something must be risked so your character can come out a hero and a winner (it's their story anyway).
In case of a villain, he always lose... those poor guys... boohoo!10) Show, don't tell. Come up with a few key scenes to get the characters across
Last thing about character development, always think of ways of showing a character's true persona instead of him talking about it or someone else talking about them. It's just cheap and not effective.
Who talks about themselves in real life? Honestly, do you go around telling people you're easygoing and nothing would make you happier than finding a good wife? Not really. People get to really know you when they spend time with you.
Remember, a character might say something but act completely different, so which is true? Probably the way he acts. The old saying "Actions mean a lot more than words" couldn't be more truthful. If your character is a jerk, show him being a jerk. If your character vies for love, then come up with a way of showing just that. Behavior is really interesting when we get to witness it not talk about it.
So there it is, with this quick yet long list of questions your character should be a lot more fleshed and feeling like a real person. I guarantee you'll find your characters driving the plot forward without effort.Recommended Reading:
I won't recommend another Terry Rossio's column this week since a lot of people seem to be missing on those because of some "anti-linking" device on their website, but if you have a chance please do pay them a visit at www.wordplayer.com and peruse their columns. You'll find a lot of useful information there.
And if you're really serious about the craft of writing for any entertainment medium be sure to pick up "Creating Unforgettable Characters
" by Linda Seger or "Writers on Comics Scriptwriting
" by Mark Salisbury which has writers like Peter David, Todd McFarlane, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, and others telling more about their process.
Thanks for reading!