Screenplay Character Development Made Easy (With This Hack).

Watch your characters come alive, start to feel like real people and grab the attention of managers and execs.

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Write Characters
July 20, 2015 6 comments
character development

Make screenplay character development 100x easier with this #1 hack.

Do you have an incredible idea for a script, but are unsure how to make the characters feel real? Do you often get the note back that your characters feel two-dimensional?

Here’s a simple screenplay character development hack that most aspiring writers don’t use, but will quickly elevate your characters above the norm. We consider it essential, in fact, as it will help you crack the motivations of your characters wide open.

So, let’s dive into the strategy you can use to write better screenplay characters that act and feel real.

The ultimate character hack.

The hack we recommend you use is called the Enneagram. Without going into a history lesson, the Enneagram is a personality-type grading system. Along the lines of Meyers-Briggs, or even—gulp—astrology.

We’re going to focus on screenplay character development in this post, but the Enneagram Insitute is the place to find out more about it.

The central conceit of the test is that there are nine basic types of people. Everyone who takes the test is assigned a “type” on a scale from one to nine, which are:

1. Reformer.

This personality type is purposeful, principled, always in control and something of a perfectionistic. Read more about the Reformer here.

2. Helper.

If your screenplay character is a generous, people-pleaser, they’re likely to be a Helper. Also, demonstrative and prone to being a tad possessive. Read more about the Helper here.

3. Achiever.

Does one of your characters always check their hair before leaving the house? Chances are they’re an image-conscious Achiever. They’re also very adaptive and driven. Read more about the Achiever here.

4. Individualist.

This character type is your screenplay’s sensitive, withdrawn type. Also self-absorbed, temperamental and fiercely individualistic. Read more about the Individualist here.

5. Investigator.

If you have a screenplay character that’s a cerebral chin-stroker, this is their personality type. Secretive, innovative and probably a bit of a loner too. Read more about the Investigator here.

6. Loyalist.

A Loyalist is a responsible type you can confide in and is always on time. Also, the anxious and suspicious type who double-checks the doors before leaving the house. Read more about the Loyalist here.

7. Enthusiast.

Trying to arrange a time to meet up with an Enthusiast can be tricky as their spontaneous, fun-loving personality means they’re always on the go. Could also be described as easily distracted and scatty. Read more about the Enthusiast here.

8. Challenger.

This personality type fits the bill of many a screenplay antagonist: powerful, domineering, self-confident and never one to back away from a confrontation. Read more about the Challenger here.

9. Peacemaker.

The complete opposite to the Challenger, if you have a character in your script who’s easy-going, complacent and steers clear of drama, he or she’s a Peacemaker. Read more about the Peacemaker here.

Give your script’s characters “wings.”

The above broad personality types are great starting points when it comes to screenplay character development, but it gets more complex…

Each of the nine types also has a “wing”: a corresponding type that’s either one above or one below the original personality type.

For example, a seven (Enthusiast) can also either be a seven-six (Loyalist) or a seven-eight (Challenger.)

So if you have a screenplay character who’s an Enthusiast, they can be differentiated from another Enthusiast. This depends on whether they’re a seven-six who’s more of a Loyalist, or a seven-eight who’s more of a Challenger.

And if you like you can take this script character development even further…

character development

The 18 possible types of character.

Each of the nine personality types also has a tendency.

Just because two people are seven-sixes, doesn’t mean they are the same. It means they are similar. Each of the eighteen sub-types also has three instinctual variants they use to feel protected:

1.  Self-preservation
2.  Relational
3.  Social

Immediately, your screenplay character development process now has fifty-four specific sub-types of people, in a pyramid-like scheme. But there’s more, and it’s the most important part…

The 9 levels.

The Enneagram supposes that there are nine “levels” that people exist on. That is, on Level 1, they are their best selves, whereas, at Level 9, they are their worst.

As one would expect, someone at Level 9 of one sub-type is potentially psychopathic, while someone at Level 9 of another sub-type could be suicidal. It comes down to what a specific character tends to do as they hit their breaking point. One could never harm another, while another could never go through with suicide.

But the truth is we never know what we are capable of until we reach true rock bottom. This is what this script character development exercise will help you find out.

Screenplay character development made easy.

Using the Enneagram you will learn how your characters will react in these and other situations. With fifty-four sub-types and nine levels based upon a state of being, you are looking at 486 potential jumping-off points for any character you create!

This takes much of the random and vague “Oh, he’s this type of guy” style of writing out of the equation, giving you a framework on which to base your screenplay character development.

This is why we love the Enneagram. It may not be scientific, but it is realistic. And, as writers, we don’t need scientific proof that the system works… we only need it to feel real, and the Enneagram does just that.

Take the test as your characters.

When starting any screenplay, take the Enneagram test in the voice of your main protagonist and every one of your major characters. Also, read up on the type, and sub-type.

I then look at another Enneagram book I have and make a note of what Level I think my character lives his/her life at. Then I note where I want to take them… and I figure out how to get them there.

Why the enneagram is the best tool for script character development.

The Enneagram offers real traits and motivations of personality types. Then it gets more specific with sub-types. And on and on.

We suggest visiting the Enneagram Institute for more information, as well as looking on sites like Amazon for additional Enneagram books and materials.

Once you start incorporating the Enneagram into your screenplay character development, you should immediately see what we mean about the system being “motive-based.” And what are our characters, if not motivated? Two-dimensional, unbelievable and fictitious.

This kind of character development may not tell you everything you need to know about how to write a great character. But it will push you in the right direction and make sure they feel much more grounded.


Have you used the Enneagram in your screenplay character development? Will you give it a shot? Let us know in the comments section below.

character development

Liked this post? Read more posts on character development…

Why Your Script Characters Feel “Flat” and How to Fix It

Why Creating a Character Bio Isn’t a Great Starting Point

How to Write a Screenplay That’s Unlike Any Other in 6 Steps

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