This is the fourth part of the series, introduction to screenwriting. Click here for first part, click here for second part and click here for third part. This part of the series deals with character development to compliment the story structure. The character driven scripts develop entirely based on the character development and the plot driven scripts have the conflict and drama generated through characters.
The writers must study people in order to write great characters. Not everyone responds in a similar way in a particular situation. For example, when a group of friends are casually chatting and someone narrates an incident, it may invoke various emotional responses in each person listening. It may offend someone, generate curiosity in someone else and others may just laugh at it. The differences are mainly because people have emotional attachments to certain objects, incidents, things and people. But over the course of time, these attachments may change and what offended them several years ago may become hilarious later and some may get permanently etched in their minds forever. This is the transformation of attachment. The emotional attachment and the transformation play a crucial role while writing a character. The response of each character during a scene sets the film moving and creates empathy in audience. It is not easy to perceive the reaction of every character for every scene, so the writer has to create some tools to understand the character.
Several popular writers suggest writing the character biographies that serve as the guide. It is better to write important life events of every major character. Although majority of the character descriptions don’t be a part of the screenplay, they serve as the pointers to it. The character biographies or simple descriptions may range from a character’s choices of food, dressing, makeup, mode of transport, friends, beliefs, customs etc to even dreams and past life. It is a matter of choice and some writers are gifted that they directly write characters without any pointers. If you follow them, then all your characters behave alike and sound similar in the first draft. Even if you make subsequent changes, it won’t help the screenplay much.
Apart from the personal preferences, the personal, professional and private life of every character needs to be written in a character biography. The personal life is family, friends, hobbies and lifestyle of the character. The professional life is colleagues, professional goals, working style, morals and ethics, work-life balance and ambitions of the character. The private life is the internal world of the character which has the true nature of the character and his/her secrets and beliefs. These things help in understanding the character inside out without confusing between plot requirements and character goals.
The character traits are used in a screenplay and are derived directly from the character biography. The character traits include the appearance and attitude of the character which is explicitly discussed or portrayed in the film. The appearance includes the wardrobe and behavior of the character. The attitude is the perception of a character towards people or things. These things are to be either explicitly told in a voice over or through dialogue, or expressed through the scenes. Most filmmakers prefer the later as the film is considered to be a visual medium. For example, instead of telling the audience that a character is arrogant, it should be portrayed through a scene where the character throws away a coffee cup after an argument. The attitude should always be complimented by the tone of the dialogues. If a character hates pets, and particularly cats, then his tone should express it while talking about cats.
The first appearance of a character is crucial for a screenplay and the character traits should be expressed during the scene. The weakness, desire and transformation of a character should be portrayed through scenes. The moral argument arises when a character’s values are in conflict. The values are beliefs of a character about what makes a good life. The moral argument is a sign of professional writing and good character development. The characters are like pillars of the story world and the transformation of many characters may indicate transformation of the society. So, the writers should be careful about writing the character transformations. For example, if a group of law-abiding citizens find a bag full of cash, one of them may want to keep it for themselves but if most of them think so, then there is something wrong with the story world.
The next part of the series deals with writing scenes. The scenes require well written characters and it is easy to write scenes after the character development.