Are These Character Creation Writing Beliefs Ruining Your Screenplay?


Character creation writing is a skill that takes time, effort and imagination. And because characters are at the heart of most stories, writers need to create and develop them with care and skill.

Not even imaginative make-up, expensive costumes and great acting can rescue an ill thought-out, poorly created character – as investors of some screen works have found out.

In a novel, terrible character creation writing can be exposed more easily and quickly; there are no lights or effects to hide behind.

Below are three wrong beliefs about the subject that will mess up your screenplay and have your audience dragging you.

1) They must be 100% relatable
Because human beings are dynamic and unique, it’s not actually possible for a character to represent everyone.

And that’s part of what being relatable is about – for someone to look at the character you created and go, “I get that character because s/he is me.” Or “I know someone who does x,y,z like that character.”

While there will be similarities which you can capitalise on, not even everyone within a sub-group is the same.

So, not every Hispanic, Asian, blonde or African has the same reality or desires. But the marked, well thought-out differences are part of what make a character compelling.

For instance, Katniss Everdeeen in the Hunger Games trilogy? I don’t know what kind of reality everyone else lives in, but in mine, folk do not go around with bows and arrows as part of their normal.

We can say the same for the character of Gabby Solis of Desperate Housewives. She wasn’t just different from everyone on the lane; she’s also different from many people in real life.

And it’s these differences in their internal makeup or the way they react to external situations (some of which they cause and some of which they cannot control) – these are the things that make people go, “What’s going on in the mind of this character? I want to know more.”

Contrast that with a lot of Nigerian movies and dramas that portray IJGBs (used to describe people who have returned from abroad after a long time, as in “I Just Got Back”) in a very specific, stereotypical way.

Personally, while I admit I do sound a certain way, I do not say innit unless I’m mocking someone. And in the spirit of mockery, I’m more likely to say amma-wanna-ganna (which has nothing to do with British slang and is part of the point).

I do not call anyone bruv or mate, say “Cheers” when I mean “Thank you”, do my make-up a certain way, or wear a 30-inch long weave.

I pronounce my t’s clearly, and the albumen of a poached egg with a shot of orange juice can never be my idea of breakfast – fit fam or not. Plus I’m never going to an expensive restaurant to order a slice of bland chicken breast with kale leaves and call that lunch.

So, I look at a writer’s onscreen interpretation of IJGBs that s/he hopes are relatable. I see irritating cookie-cutter clones of each other, wonder where/what/who the prototype is/was AND switch off! Because I feel insulted.

2) They can exist for the sake of it
Even the creation of minor characters should be treated with care. You don’t have to hint at or show their back story if it’s not crucial to the plot.

But creating a character to exist for the sake of it, is just lazy writing. An excuse for you to insert drama or comic relief that falls flat because it’s unnecessary.

And that tends to happen when your major characters have run out of things to do or say – because a) you created them badly and b) your plot has hit a brick wall and nothing is happening.

3) They must be deep
It’s usually nice when there’s a moral lesson to take away from a production. But it doesn’t always have to be deep.

I guess this would depend on your audience and the message you’re trying to convey. But in character creation writing, you need to consider how real people think and act.

In real life, not everyone is introspective, thinks through every situation and psycho-analyses their options 10X before making a decision.

Not everyone has the same level of intellectual prowess, spiritual depth or emotional maturity. Or whatever deep means to you.

And even the ones who have these things, don’t exhibit them 100% of the time.

Human beings have off days, make mistakes, and wake up on the wrong side of the bed on some days.

What, you’ve never seen the smartest person you know do something that made you think, “Ah, you’re human after all?!”

So, give your characters permission to be human (and stupid). But if there’s a change in their personality, show why and how.

Click here to see 6 questions you should be asking when developing characters in fiction

Comment below and let us know which of the wrong character creation beliefs has affected your screenplay before now

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