Character Development

By Michael Schilf · January 21, 2010


Objective: Dig deep with a character, discovering background history, personality, psychology, and current goals.

Exercise: Write a detailed description of your main character (1 page only).

Remember: You are describing a dramatic character, so present him/her to us in a way that is cinematically useful.

Hints: We need to understand their drives, fears, goals, and we’ll have to be able to picture them and hear them.

SEVEN DAY SCHEDULE: Here, purely as an example, is a seven day template to follow.

DAY 1 – Describe your main character. Do it as if you were telling someone about some very interesting people you met, someone that drives you crazy, someone you think the world of… Imagine being asked, “Why should I be interested in this person?” Share your excitement about him/her?

DAY 2 – Do CHARACTER EXERCISES. How is he/she different from you? What sort of imaginary body does he or she have? Where is the character’s imaginary center?

DAY 3 – Try the body principle with costume, props, or activity. Literally, be the character. Go shopping – at the mall, in the grocery store – as your character. Order a sandwich, not as you would, but as your character would. Maybe you’re lactose intolerant but you end up with a double cheese burger with grilled onions. Go to the Museum of Modern Art as your character. What does your character see or doesn’t see. What did you learn. Take notes after your session.

DAY 4 – Read the CHARACTER QUESTIONNAIRE – slowly. You don’t have to answer everything. Some things you’ll have an answer for immediately. Others will seem irrelevant. But be careful you aren’t just avoiding something challenging. What things would you like to know about your character but can’t answer? Let your imagination go. Take notes on anything that occurs to you, but don’t touch your description.

DAY 5 – Three things. Describe your main character again, incorporating anything new you’ve discovered, but don’t revise what you wrote the first time. Start anew. Try different CHARACTER EXERCISES. Have fun. After you’ve finished, ask yourself what your character is after. What does he/she want? What is his/her goal? What would Make it most difficult for him or her to achieve it?

DAY 6 – Review the CHARACTER QUESTIONNAIRE. Have any things occurred to you? Look back at your first descriptions. Is a new person beginning to emerge? Different from those you first saw? What interests you most about him/her now? What is his/her strengths? What do you loathe in him/her? Where is she vulnerable? Remember: your character must have weaknesses. Describe him/her again, incorporating the new knowledge gained from the CHARACTER QUESTIONNAIRE. Once again, start from scratch.

DAY 7 – Review your work. Revise your description (1 PAGE SINGLE SPACED).