CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: a discussion on facebook

Before you start writing a story you should already have a cast of characters, some of which you had to completely fabricate. I have specific criteria that these characters must meet before I put them in a script. Do you? What’s in your list of qualities and faults they must possess?
    • I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t think I have any criteria before I come up with a character or put them in a script. I don’t even have the complete cast before I start writing. but I may not understand what you are saying.

    • Motives, flaws, wants, needs, etc. You don’t develop your characters, Howard? Developing them makes it a lot easier for me to make them real.

    • I don’t stringently outline my characters either. But the main character will have a defined dissatisfaction of some sort. Other than that, I depend on the enneagram system to help me structure qualities and faults within a character. I like the enneagram theory as a character tool. It outlines 9 basic personalities that change according to whether a person is in a state of stress or comfort. The whole system just seems to work well in terms of character and conflict.

    • I have tried developing my characters indepth before hand but it always changes as I write. Not a bad thing necessarily. I have had more success in just having a fragment of a character idea in mind and then as he / she meets each conflict, ask what would my character do. Not what I would do but what would my character do. That question gets me thinking about my character. The decisions that my character makes under stress is what actually builds my character for me. But just as everything else, something may work for me but it may not work for you.

    • Marty, I develop my characters, but not that much before I start writing. For the central ones, I have a general idea as to their personality and what they want, but I discover things about them as I go along. And I have to make up characters as I go along in order to fill out the plot. It’s like doing an outline or treatment, etc., if I did that I would never get to writing the screenplay. For characters, if I worked too much on them before I started writing, I would never write the screenplay. I don’t have a specific criteria before I put them in a script. But characters and dialog seem to be the easiest thing for me to write, it’s structure I have issues with.
    • Characters and dialogue come easily for me,too. Structure jyst comes naturally to me at this point. It’s a coming up with a good story that’s worth writing that I find the most challanging. When I do find one I beat out the whole story so I know where it’s going, and having developed characters with depth helps along the way with intertwining with the plot. I think we all have our favorite parts of writing, and our less than faves. I don’t particularly like all the preperation, but when I sit down to write, it’s fast and I’m at my best.

    • I know I’ll need characters who demonstrate some sort of extremes of the same flaws the leads (protag, antag, love interest) possess, as well as attacking Theme from different angles and extremes…

      I don’t always have a list of those flaws or angles on theme, but, upon completing a first draft, I use those two things as markers when I go back to flesh out the conflicts that occur between my characters.

      I beat the story out ‘for story’ first, then go back and detail thematic elements and flaws/character growth elements, and incorporate those into each interaction between all my various characters.

    • I start with backgrounds for the protagonist and antagonist and build supporting characters around them. The history, mannerisms, quirks, all come out as I write the story itself. Then I’ll usually go back through and make sure they all have their own way of speaking as well.

    • I’m in Camp Howard. I do very, very little (if any) prewriting on the characters. But I have to intrinsically know who they are before I start writing. I see them in my head very specifically.
    • Once I have a good idea as to how the script is forming, which usually includes named characters, I do character biographies that will start with basics but will venture into detail to the point where they start to assume their own voice and identity based on questions that I literally ask the character. I’m amazed at some of the answers I end up getting. Probably not new to anyone here but it works for me.
    • I try to write back story for my main characters but… ugh… it means more writing. But I have to do it to flesh out their details. A backstory also helps with the choices my character’s make.

    • I think I tend to go the opposite way. The choices my character makes helps with the backstory.

    • I tried developing some detailed biographies in advance recently but I found that when I was writing the script I forgot some of the stuff or it wasn’t relevant or I wanted something different. I wasn’t too sure if developing biographies was helpful or necessary.

    • In the screenplay I just wrote, after I finished the first draft, I thought, I know, I’ll add a scene where the antagonist reveals he had a fling with the protagonist’s love interest. That idea had just occurred to me, when I wrote the script I didn’t think of them having a fling.


I only recently finished reading the great book Oblomov, by the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov, a sprawling novel about a particularly type of Russian character. It was one of those books that when I laid it down I was extremely sad that I would never be visiting with these people again. I felt sort of like I was saying goodbye to someone I had really come to know and become emotionally involved with. It’s the same sort of feeling I have when I read novels by Dickens (and other Victorians), Proust, Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, etc., stories that are large in concept. It struck me after thinking about this, that this is one of the main differences between movies and novels. I love movies and they can have a great emotional impact on me, but I almost never, if ever, come away feeling like I’m saying goodbye to a good friend, to someone I have really come to know and become deeply and emotionally involved with. This is not the fault of movies. Every art form has its advantages and disadvantages and this perhaps is just one of the inherent limitations in film. It’s the same for plays as well; there just isn’t enough time to really get to know the people a writer presents to you in the same way one comes to know them in novels. In fact, about the only other art form where this happens for me is in TV where one can get to know characters over a longer period of time, even a number of years, characters like Mary Richards, Archie Bunker, the servants of Upstairs, Downstairs, or even in mini-series like Bridesheard Revisited or Queer as Folk, so that one feels a great loss in leaving them (or more accurately, in their leaving you). It’s one of the reasons why I read novels and watch TV, to get that feeling that is almost impossible to get in movies. In fact, the only exception one might find in films is The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which takes place over almost nine hours (like a TV mini-series) or something like watching all the Thin Man movies in one sitting.