It’s not easy to write compelling characters that feel real and evoke emotion from your reader. But strong, resonant characters are essential to writing a screenplay that sells. If you’re having trouble writing great characters, you’re not alone.
4 character types to avoid in your script
Here are four character types to avoid, and a few simple tips to make sure you don’t write bad characters into your next screenplay.
How to avoid writing boring characters
Passive characters are boring. The sooner you learn to make your characters active, the better your writing will be.
Protagonists are supposed to act in order to push the story forward, not merely react to event around them. Now, that doesn’t mean every character has to be Rambo to be interesting. Far from it. “Active” characters aren’t action heroes. They simply take action to create change around them and growth within them. Bobby Fischer wasn’t throwing grenades into foxholes, but his story is still compelling because he took action. Your characters can be quiet, but they should never be passive.
A simple way to make your characters active is to make sure they have a clear goal that they want to achieve. Ideally, this is an internal goal AND and external goal. Our partners at ScreenCraft have a great free download exploring The Hero’s Journey story structure: Free Download: Exploring the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey
Many writers (especially those capturing “slice-of-life” stories) make the mistake of writing a main character that is merely affected by events around them. If this kind of character doesn’t have a goal, they can’t act, and the audience can’t interact with them. There’s nothing to root for or boo if characters don’t have motivation. Fix the “Passive Protagonist” by defining your protagonist’s goal(s) and writing actions that bring them into conflict with. that goal. Don’t make them a victim to circumstances. Make the protagonist change them.
Characters aren’t plot devices
Writers often find that their script requires another character to step in and complete a task in order for the plot to move forward. It happens. However, when you create a character to simply accomplish a narrative beat, that character has become nothing more than a “plot device.” Literally.
The danger with this type of character is that they only exist to service that single plot point. And that’s bad writing. At best, their introduction (and exit) will feel tacked on. But what happens when the script changes? Revisions are a huge part of the scriptwriting process, and odds are several of your scenes are going to change or be removed entirely in the final edit. What do you do with a character that only really exists to service a plot point that no longer exists?
Avoid creating characters that simply drive the plot. Instead, give moments like this to organic characters that have a reason to take action. And if you can’t find one in your existing cast of characters, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at just how important that plot point is in the first place.
Don’t write superfluous characters
Similar to scenes that lack purpose, characters can also exist that just don’t further the story. Every page of your screenplay is precious real estate. Each character, even ones that have no dialogue, should have a reason for being there.
- Do they provide a foil for the protagonist?
- Do they reveal something important about the other characters in the story?
- Are they the (well-written) comic relief?
Every character should contribute to the overall story. If you find that a story is better off or no different by leaving a character out, they should be cut.
Do your characters fit in the script?
Sometimes writers make the mistake of adding characters that don’t just fit the story. Even a minor character that clashes with the action or tone of the script it can derail the entire script. Don’t endanger the tone of the story as a whole, because you feel you have to add a certain character type. Instead, writers should focus on making existing characters well-rounded as individuals.
Never add an additional character when you can flesh out the role of an existing character. Whatever the case, be sure that the characters lean closer to the tone of the story, and just give them a few moments wherein they tip the scale a bit toward the other end for balance.
There’s no such thing as one “right” way to write a character. Just remember, writing passive characters or roles that only exist to progress a plot point can weaken your script. Every character on the page should have a strong reason for being in your screenplay.
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