Screenplay Character


Everything about a character must serve a purpose, must be operable, must set up something that will happen later in the story.

  • Name Characters Carefully: A dramatic script is essentially an engine for establishing and releasing dramatic potential. As such, every opportunity must be exploited to this end, particularly naming, e.g., the title, characters, places, etc. See Word Use section for more on this.

  • Describe Characters with Purpose Character traits must be consciously and deliberately a part of the dramatic potential that will be released in the story. If they do not serve this purpose, they're just window dressing and ought to be eliminated. An angry character is angry because his inability to control his temper leads to story complications, e.g., Sonny in The Godfather (1972), or because the anger will be transformed into compassion and caring in the course of the story, or because he will encounter a meek person during the story who will teach him serenity, etc. He's not angry simply because he's angry.

  • Match Challenges to Weaknesses: If it is established that a character fears something more than anything on Earth, we know the story will be about his coming face-to-face with this fear and overcoming it during the story. Establishing such weaknesses early makes for strong character development possibilities later in the story.

If you do this right you'll never lose your audience as they'll come to know that when you put something in your story you intend to use it later.

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  1. Review the classic film The Godfather (Widescreen Edition) (1972). Consider how the character of the three sons--Sonny, Alfredo, and Michael--are set up throughout. How does this play out later?
  2. Review Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) with Harrison Ford. What is his one greatest fear in life? How do we know he will have to face it later? At what point in the story does it occur?