Don’t let your characters get away from you.
Everyone has a favorite movie or TV character. They have someone they identify with, who has inspired them, helped them dream or even given them nightmares. The characters are at the center of any narrative. Often they can be mirrors of the writers’ struggles or personalities. They are the heartbeat of any narrative.
But what happens when you’ve finished a few drafts and your characters still don’t feel cohesive? How do you rework them and write them in a way that allows them to show up in your story?
Today I’m going to tell you how to improve the characters in your scenario. We’ll look at some strategies, tips, and what it means to have someone fully fleshed out on the page.
How to Improve Your Storyline Characters
Before I get to that, I’ll tell you that I’ve been here too.
Do you know where I’m talking about? That feeling where you’re done with the plot of your script, but the feedback you get is that people clash with certain characters and their motivations. The thing I do when I’m in this pickle is I go back to how I developed the character first. If you’re a member of No Film School, you know I’m a fan of the Menu and use it to direct your characters.
The Character The Menu
At the beginning of Create short storylines that connect by Claudia Hunter Johnson, there is an exercise the author calls “The Menu”. It asks the reader to complete a survey to determine what types of stories they should write. Instead of filling out the Menu on your own, I would have the writer pretend to be the character, then write five to ten responses to:
- what i love
- What I hate
- what i fear
- what i believe
- What I appreciate
- What I want
- What I know of
- People who made a difference in my life
- Discoveries that changed my life
- Decisions that made a difference in my life
Once you have these answers, see if they are actually tangible in your script. Do we actually see, hear and feel these answers?
Character Development Worksheet
As we delve deeper into improving your character, be open to the fact that even if you like your storyline, you may need to redevelop the people who play the main role in it. There are times when you’re so worried about the plot making sense that you might skimp on scenes that show who these people are and what drives them.
When you’re trying to create a character or continue to grow through a story, it can be hard to follow.
So we have prepared a character development worksheet for you. This should be a helpful reminder of interesting ways you can add to your character or just details the audience can relate to as you go along.
The character map
After doing all the thinking and listing, I like to go through my plot to make sure my character is actually following the story. This simultaneous arc will help you and your readers find the moments that make your characters stand out. A lot of times I find that I haven’t put my characters in a bad enough spot to blow them up or get the audience to root for them.
So I created this map that accompanies our storyboard plan. Each outline twist has a character moment to follow. Hopefully this inspires you to push your characters further.
- Unravel the map – Introduce us to your characters at the start and show us who they start the storyline with and what their personality traits are.
- The launch point – Put your character in a situation where his flaws are obvious. Show us how their problems will be exposed.
- The first leg – Put your character in situations where they learn to be different – make it easy.
- Change course – Let your character embrace this new version of themselves and see how it can help them.
- The foot of the mountain – What can the new and improved person accomplish?
- Climb the side – As they progress through the story, show them who they are compared to who they were. Should they keep changing?
- Through the cave – Shed light on the new person and how these new traits are changing the world.
- Reassess the problem – Is there a way for the new version of the character to deal with old issues? Or will they go back to what they were?
- try and fail – Let the arc put the character in new and terrible situations. Let them fail where they succeeded.
- The fall – How does their new self completely ruin what they wanted? Have they gone too far? What can they learn?
- The hidden clue – What personal conclusion did their emotional journey lead to that they must now embrace?
- Race to the finish – Now, as their fulfilled selves, they can bind the plot.
- The treasure chest – Are they changing?
- where we go from here – Keep your options open on how this person can continue to change in the future.
Summarize your character redevelopment
There will always be notes on your script. You will get them from the director, producer and cast. And you’ll make adjustments on the fly when you’re actually shooting.
It’s not easy to rework characters in a story, but it’s a skill you need to master if you want to move forward. There are many different strategies out there, and if you have any that work, I encourage you to put them in the comments. I want everyone to work together here to find the best processes that we can beg, borrow and steal to create our best work.
Now go back to writing.