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By Cameron Cubbison · March 1, 2015
Characters are the moving pieces to your story. No characters? No story. No interest. And no fun. But story does not cure lack of characters. A screenplay is only a glimpse into a specific set of characters at a specific time. They exist before your story and after. Remember this before you start typing away. If you don't, that typing won't be worth the paper each letter is printed on. Below are a few tips on how to solidify your characters before they ever enter your screenplay.
Focus on characteristics, not backstory. Make sure to start each character's web, list, etc. with the most basic of human traits. How does he or she walk? Talk? How would they play sports? Would they say "thank you" or simply grunt? Start basic (from the ground) and build up as you get more and more foundation.
Allow those characteristics to build a backstory. Got all of these characteristics on paper? Now weave that individual's existence. Sustain the perspetive of it being an "existence" vs. coming up with some story. The phrase "come up with a story" is highly intimidating. Try and let that story evolve as organically as possible. Is your lead a misfit? So, would that mean he or she would have a checkered past? Or would it be "squeaky clean" and that checkered past be hidden the entire time? These are the kinds of questions to ask during this stage.
Make sure drama can be fueled by good diversity. Dramatic events in screenplays are the result of multiple forces clashing, proposing that neither force will move. But what inspires the clash? Typically, clash's roots comes from characters being from very different places and then "by fate of the stars" going head to head with each other. Let your characters be different. They do need connecting points (points that will eventually enable them to bond), but ultimately make them different so they are witnessing the other side of life by being in the other character's presence.