It is important as a scriptwriter to come up with characters that are not only realistic and gripping but also fit the story you are trying to tell. The most important of these two considerations is that the character fit in with the plot. You need to create a character that will deeply care and react to whatever event is happening around them. If your character cares about what happens around them it makes it so much easier to get the audience to care about them.
When to begin to create a character, especially a major one, you normally begin with a couple of personality traits and a vague idea of what they look like. The more visual and audio media you listen to the easier it is to have that spark of an idea to make a memorable character. You just need the right voice, line of dialogue, look or goal to get that initial idea. Once you have that initial idea you need to grab it by the throat and shake as much detail as you can out of it.
Try to draw out this initial idea now and create an image of this character in your head.
- Are they male or female?
- How old are they?
- What type of clothes do they wear?
- How do they style their hair?
- Do they wear glasses?
Now you have a visual image of your character you need to explore the background of the character.
- What was their childhood like?
- Do they have a family now?
- What kind of people do they befriend?
- What is their profession?
- Do they carry anything around with them?
- Where is their home?
- What do they own?
Once you have figured all this out you have a nice skeleton of a character. You have all the information you need of this character to write about them. However if you delve a little deeper you can create a truly memorable character for your screenplay.
Think about what it is that makes this character unique from other characters which might share similarities. Come up with a single sentence description of the character which captures their essence and personality. This sentence should capture the character in such a way that the reader will instantly understand them. Columbo is the scruffy, bumbling detective with a sharp mind.
While you come up with this sentence you may also want to name your character. By now you should have a good idea who the character is and what they stand for. Try to create a name which represents the character without sounding cliché. Lt. Columbo is a great name for the character. Straight away you know his rank within the police force, while Columbo is a step away from Columbus, a man famed for the discovery of America. You might also note that Columbo never gave a first name, adding to his mystery.
You can still delve even deeper into your character. Take the role of interviewer for a lifestyle magazine. Ask your character interesting questions, sometimes the answers might surprise you. Whenever you come across a surprising answer or loose thread question them further on it. Let the character speak for themselves, let the words flow through your fingers. Take everything you know about the character and take the role yourself.
Once you get into the head of a character this way it becomes a lot easier to develop them to the point where they become completely real in your mind. This is a great thing. Now you can imagine how they act and react to their everyday activities. Think about them at their job, going shopping, amongst family, amongst friends and partaking in their hobbies. You will soon see the small personality changes that naturally happen depending on the situation the character is in.
You’ve created a great thing here, a character who is an individual. If you’re scriptwriting and come to a part of the plot where the character needs to do something which defies their core then you need to re-evaluate the plot or re-create the character. The best way of getting around this issue is to have an event earlier on in the screenplay which explains why the character might react in such a way that goes against what they stand for normally.
Whether the character you’ve created is likeable or not you have to learn to respect them. Treat them as the individuals they are. Respect their quirks and contradictions. Remember that the characters feelings and what happens around them means absolutely everything to them.