The 14 Vital Points for Outlining Characters

By Susan Kouguell · July 25, 2014

Readers must have a clear understanding of who your characters are and the reasons why they take the actions they do in your screenplay; otherwise your script will be rejected.

Successful characters are multi-dimensional with distinctive physical attributes, emotional traits, appearances, personalities, intelligence, vulnerabilities, emotions, attitudes, idiosyncrasies, a sense of humor or prevailing despair, secrets, and hopes and dreams. Writing solid and memorable characters also means digging deep into their past and present.

There are several ways in which to delve into characters, such as writing character bios in the character’s voice.  (I offer various templates and examples in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!).  Use whichever exercise works best for you.  The bottom line is that you must know your characters inside and out.

The 14 Vital Points to Address in Your Character Outline

The following points to address for each of your main characters and for your significant supporting characters:

1.     Character Arcs:  How do my characters evolve in the beginning, middle, and end of the script, as they attempt to achieve their goals?

2.     Journeys:  What do my characters learn about themselves and others, and what do my characters gain or lose, as the plot unfolds?

3.     Multi-dimensional:  What are my characters specific emotional, mental, physical, and/or social behaviors and traits? How do my characters see themselves and how do they relate to others?

4.     Empathy: What elements make my characters likeable and unlikable?

5.     Goals: What are my characters main goals and why are these goals important? How do my characters plan to achieve these goals?

6.     Motivations: What are the underlying reasons that motivate my characters to make critical and specific decisions?

7.     Obstacles:  What are my characters’ roadblocks, problems, and hurdles that they must overcome to achieve their goals?

8.     Distinct Identities:  Describe your characters’ specific appearance, behavior, hopes and dreams, ambitions, secrets, and fears.

9.     Flaws: What are my characters’ shortcomings and weaknesses?

10.   Unique personality: What are my characters’ traits and idiosyncrasies that make them unique?

11.   Vulnerabilities: What are my characters’ Achilles’ heal?

12.   Attitude: How do my characters really feel about themselves and others?

13.   Character Transformations:  What is the event or series of events that prompt my characters to change?

14    Characters’ pasts influence their present: 

What are the events in my characters’ pasts, such as schooling, home life, employment, and/or trauma that have significantly molded them to be the person they are today?

Whether you’re writing your first draft or nearing your final polish, continue to dig deep into your characters’ minds and souls.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. ( Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, were in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked with Louis Malle on And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off on and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD.  On Kindle: (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: