Developing Characters for a Screenplay

The plot never does anything by itself. It’s the character that drives every movie. In this article, I’m going to talk about character development in movies – what is it and how to make a good character while keeping it reliable and exciting?

What is a developing character?

Developing character is the process your character is going through, while you create it. Good character development means making your characters are more complex, ambiguous with good and bad qualities. Your character can be stupid if you want it to be, but it has to have an inner logic that it is loyal to. Your character’s actions in the movie should go by your character’s personality and not out of nowhere.

images of different chracters

Examples of character development in film

If you read my blog, you already know that I believe the best way of learning filmmaking is to watch movies, so here are the best examples of character development in movies. I recommend watching them in order to really understand what I’ll teach you here.

  • Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs
  • The Joker in The Dark Knight or Joker
  • Doc Brown in the Back to The Future
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Black panter
  • Indiana Jones

How to make a good movie character development?

Think about what makes you relate to a character. Is it when it reminds a little bit of you or someone you like? Or maybe she reminds you of who you want to be. Indiana Jones is an excellent character because he is a tough dude that many of us, men, wish to be. He is also full of the adventurous spirit we want to have. Look at all the characters you like in films and novels. What is it about them that reminds you of you? What is it that makes you like them?

In the movie Inside out, the writers had to deal with the happiness of the Joy character. The problem was she was happy all the time, and no one can relate to that. The writers did an excellent job with the character by creating two elements: first, Riely started to get sad. Joy tries to fight the sad feelings, and this is when Joy appears to us as vulnerable. The second thing that the writers did is that they made it clear that Joy is happy all the time because she cares about Riely and wants her to be happy and not for selfish reasons. 

You should also think if the characters you write are ones that the audience would like to hang out with? Are they interesting enough? Are they funny or smart? What is it about them that makes you want to meet them?

Character development in a story – The characters plot

After building a good main plot, you’ll need to build the main plot of each one of your characters. What is the goal of each one of them? What are their desires? You need to make sure that their goal is a very important one. The more important your character’s goal will be, the stronger it will be, and the audience will care about her more. One more thing that is important to remember about your character’s plots is that they need to follow your movie’s main premise, as it will make your film much more engaging.

Character Goals, Wants, Motivations and expectations

The characters are moving the plot with their choices. The protagonist (The main character) is the leading voice in the story, it’s goal will be the most important one, but all the characters should have a character goal too. Why is that so important? The audience wants to see a character that makes things happen. We like the character just because it is trying to change its world (which means the character doesn’t have to succeed). As long as the drive and goals of your characters are clear to the audience, you are in the right place. 

Anima character thinks

Good character development starts with finding out what each character wants to get from the story in every scene. The ‘wants’ are different from goals because they are small ones. They are more immediate goals. Sometimes the wants can even contradict the main goal of the character.  Remember! All of the decisions she’ll make in the story will come from that motivations and goals. Sometimes the motivations might come out of fears. Find out what your character is fear or darkest side and where it is coming from. The character will usually go through a road of obstacles until she gets to where she wanted to be at the beginning of the film.

The characters expectations

How does your character see the world? This is very important as it will affect the character’s actions. When defining your character’s expectations, it should be simple. Even if your character has a complicated point of view on life, try to simplify it in two sentences to start. Once you’ll understand your character’s expectations, you need to define how your character sees herself compared to these expectations and how they affect her actions.

Pro Tip!

You should watch out for passive characters. Don’t get me wrong. There are many successful films with passive characters like Big Lebowski, but you have to be a skilful writer. If you are using a passive character, something is got to happen to pull her out from her passiveness.

a playmobil charachte

Developing a 3- Dimensional Characters

When learning how to write a good character, the important thing is to make them believable, and you will get that by making 3-dimensional characters, and you will create that by knowing their back story. Another critical thing to remember is that your character had a life before the story began (unless she is born into the world in the story). Many beginner writers forget that, and they get a very shallow character. You should start by writing her biography. A complete resume of her life from birth until the story started. You have to know your characters, as you know, your best friend. These are the things you need to know about your characters:

  • Physical: how do they look? What are their weight, height, and age? Do they have any distinguishing features? Is he strong? Is he tall? How does she talk? That may not be important to the story, but you need to know it for yourself. 
  • Sociological: Where did she grow up, and where does she live now? What kind of family did he come from? What were his previous jobs before he got to where he is now? Were there any critical events in his childhood that changed him?
  • Psychological: How does your character talk? What kind of person is he? What are his greatest fears? What are his greatest desires? Is he a perfectionist? Is he a slob? The important thing here is to understand her point of view on life. 


The character’s actions are the building block of their emotional world. When you write or direct a scene, you need to remember that every action has a purpose – these actions can emphasize something in a situation, it can be used to add tension, or to teach us something about the character.

Writing Backstories

If there is something you need to practice is writing backstories. Writing the background of each character in your script is vital to understand the mood and style of the story, you are going to tell. The more you’ll make your character look and feel real, the more the audience will love your character. The more specific you’ll be in its biography – the better.

Don’t write general things like James is a dog with a fear of abandonment, and every time his owners are going out, he is going mad. Write: When James started to get used to his new house and owners, the wife didn’t feel right, and both she and her husband went to the hospital and didn’t come back for two days. Ever since then, he is suffering from a fear of abandonment. 

Think about five characters you like from films, TV, or literature and think about what it is about them that you can identify with. That will help you understand the idea better. Put yourself in her shoes and stop to think about her actions and relationships. Look at all the actions she is doing and make her start thinking about them. Make her ask questions like, Why am I doing this? Am I sure this is the right thing to do? Why do I hate this person so much? Don’t be afraid to take details from other people, you know. Start carrying a notebook and start writing interesting details about the people you meet.

Use Psychological websites. There are many sites with psychological tests that you can run your character through. Try that. it’s fun, and you can learn great things about your characters. When you find your character psychology problem, you can go through some books about this problem to understand it even more.

5 tips to write a strong Protagonist (and Antagonist)

The audience should get to know the main character as much as possible and as fast as possible. The main character in the story is the person from his point of view, and the audience will see the story. The protagonist doesn’t have to be the one who tells the story. In the Disney movie Aladin, we know Aladin is the main character, but the one who tells the story is the old Arab at the beginning of the film (which some claim is the Genie).

Here are 5 tips on writing a strong protagonist:

  • Look for the change– The protagonist has to change during that road. If we said earlier that the main character’s goal is the fuel that drives the movie forward – the change is the resolution of the story. It is the premise, which is the reason the story is presented to us. After all, the real job of your main character is to deliver your premise. A good example is Han Solo from the Star Wars series. Han Solo starts as a cynical character that only cares about himself (therefore, the name Solo). Throughout the three films, Hans becomes a friend of Luke, the leader of the rebellion, and in a romantic relationship with Princess Leia.
  • Don’t be afraid to write a bunch of protagonists – There is usually one protagonist, but sometimes there might be two or more that will complete each other (as if they are one). When you have a few characters as one protagonist, I Recommend that you’ll write more characters at the beginning of the writing process than you plan to have. For example, if your story has five characters as the protagonist right at the beginning as if you have eight and see which one of them works best.
  • Don’t make your Character perfect – Perfect people are not interesting, and they are hard to relate to. You always need to give your main character one flaw, and the flaw will usually be related to his passion. It should be the same as your antagonist. Your antagonist can’t do bad things just because he is pure evil. There should be some complex feelings that drive him to do what he does. An excellent example of that is the protagonist od the movie Deadpool. Deadpool is more of an anti-hero than a hero- he is insecure, hates himself, and deals with a big tragedy in his life. 
  • Remember! Nothing is final – Your character will continue to grow while you are working on the script. Your characters may even surprise you during the writing
  • Look for the emotion – To understand better the protagonist’s drive you need to find out its emotion.  What is the one feeling that keeps following your character throughout the script? Is it her obstacle in the film that needs to be changed in the end, or is it what’s motivate her? Or maybe even both? The character’s emotion is something that needs to change throughout the film. For example, the emotion that leads Batman is anger or repressed anger. This feeling makes him walk a thin line between helping people and hurting them. 

The Format of Writing a Character in a Script

  1. The first time you mention a character in the script, you should write it with capitalizing letters.
  2. After the name will come a very short description of the character. That’s why the first time we write her name is with capital letters- so if the reader will forget who that character is, he can find her description very easy.
  3. The next time you will mention her name will be in the standard first letter with capital. So, the first time a character is mentioned should look like this:

“JAMES, a small brown dog with three legs, is crawling after his master.”

Remember! You can’t write emotion and thoughts when you describe a character or her actions. For example, you can’t write, “James is sitting on his bone so no one will be able to take it.” You can only describe what the character is thinking through actions or dialog (through actions is better). You also can’t sneak in information about the character- “James, Lior’s dog, is a small brown dog.” Make sure the spelling of the character’s name is consistent throughout the script.

Remember! Your goal is to make the readers care about your characters, so they will more emotionally invest in the story.


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