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Why Your Script Characters Feel “Flat” & How To Fix It

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by Scott Parisien in How To Write A Screenplay
November 4, 2014 0 comments
script characters

Have you ever been told by someone who’s read your script that your script characters feel “flat”? It’s a common note to receive but in this post we’re going to show you how to stop getting it and how to write characters the smart way.

We’re going to show you a simple way to flesh out your major and minor script characters  and make them feel like real three-dimensional people, rather than cardboard cut-outs. You see, what happens in your story is not as important as the screenplay characters it happens to.

A lot of times a writer can get too caught up in the story that they try and make the script characters bend to the will of the plot, rather than have the plot bend to the will of the characters. Yes, you need to have a plot that makes sense and has a through line that gets us from A to Z in a manner that feels right and is compelling and fulfilling.

But at the same time, for us to emotionally connect and buy into a screenplay character’s choices and goal throughout the story, the plot should move and change because of who the characters are. And the best way to keep that in mind when you begin to manipulate the world around them is to make sure you give them the respect they deserve. And this goes for your protagonists, antagonists and other major and minor characters.

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How Well Do You REALLY Know Your Script Characters?

A good way to think about it is when each movement or story choice or character decision that comes up, whether it is good or bad or will help or hurt themselves or another character, make sure it ALWAYS feels like the right thing for them.

If you really know your script characters, you will know how they would react to each certain moment. The best characters are the ones that we remember as being a real person, we think of them and it feels as though we have met them and known them.

One that always comes to mind for me is Caledon Hockley from Titanic. Here is a guy seen as a bad guy—the antagonist of the film. But for him he is a man trying to live up to a certain level of expectation in a time when class and money was a make it or break it deal.

He is looked up to and there is a lot of pressure there. He has this beautiful amazing woman he wants to marry, a woman not at the same stature as himself; he just really loves her. So, he is stepping outside of his comfort zone to have her be his wife.

And then some poor kid comes along and steals the woman he is trying so hard to make fall in love with him. So he plans to frame the kid who is trying to steal her away, as a thief, so he can get his woman back.

Kind of a shady move, right? Well sure, looking at him from the angle of a protagonist. But if you look at it from his angle, and respect the character and who he is, what he wants and what he is losing, it would be hard not to respect the choices he is making to keep everything in his control.

Everything he is doing, even if the audience and the writer see each move as awful and diabolical and evil, is right to him. These are choices that he as the character—because of who he is, the child of his environment that he has become—feels are the right things to do.

Respect Your Script Characters And Everything Will Start To Click

Classifying a character like this as a sociopathic character which has no feeling for anyone he deems less than him, or as a spoiled rich ass who must have everything he wants, is not enough. There has to be more, and it starts with respecting your script characters enough to get to know them inside out, no matter how much they may or may not turn your stomach.

Getting to truly know your script characters and respecting them from their points of view, is a great way to create solid, deep, and dimensional characters that the audience can buy into, no matter which side of the coin their choices are made on.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these character writing tips on how to write great script characters that pop off the page. For more resources on how to write characters check out this post on de-mystifying a character’s “want” and “need.”

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Scott was a senior analyst at ScriptPipeline for five years and now reads for ScriptReaderPro. He has optioned five scripts in recent years, one of which “Incision,” (2013 PAGE awards winner) js currently in pre-production with Loesch Productions.

To get your screenplay reviewed by Scott or any of our script consultants, check out our script coverage services.

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