Character is the most important element of any screenplay. All stories are about people. All of them. Yes, even your big blockbuster superhero movie full of special effects, CGI, car crashes, explosions and fight scenes are about people. You come to see the superhero in action saving the world, but you stay to watch the hero’s alter ego try to function in the everyday world.
Character development is hard enough — making sure each character in your story has a distinct voice is a huge challenge in its own right. It’s an elusive concept sometimes, but it’s one of those elements that the audience, or the reader, notices when it’s missing, so let’s go over a few ways to practice a character’s voice and discover what their voice is all about.
This might be the most obvious way, but it’s worth mentioning. Make sure you develop your character as much as possible. Write a character bio for your character. Why not go even further and write their obituary. Really get down to who this character is, where they come from, what’s important to them. What do they want to be remembered for? Answering a lot of those questions will help you get to know who this person is and they will become so real to you, you’ll feel like you just had an old friend over for afternoon tea — or coffee, or wine, or whatever afternoon beverage your character might prefer. (This blog post from Arc Studio Pro also offers a ton of great character development exercises you can try.)
Put a face to that name
Another great way to make sure your character has a distinct voice is to picture who would play that person in a movie. Having a face in your mind will also help you understand who this person is and what makes them tick. The more real they are to you, the writer, the more real they will seem on the page.
Define their expertise
When you are working on your character bio and/or obituary, make sure to identify what your character strengths are. Everyone’s an expert at something. Your character might not have a PhD, they might not even have a high school diploma. It doesn’t mean there isn’t something they are great at, and something only they know. What is that for your character? A lot of what they know and what they don’t know will come out in their voice and in the way they speak.
Define their character flaw
Nobody is perfect. Your characters shouldn’t be either. That’s why it’s important to define character flaws early on. Make sure you give them a character flaw that will get them in trouble within the story you are creating. What this means is: put slackers in extremely strict situations, put control freaks in chaos, make introverts put on a presentation in front of hundreds of people.
Write a monologue in their voice
Now that you’ve written their bio, their obituary, their expertise and their character flaw, try using all of these elements in a monologue in their voice. Really get down to their world view, their likes and dislikes. What is most important to them? Who is the person they trust the most in the world? Who would they take a bullet for? Do they have a cause they would do anything to defend? Is there something they hate or love above everything else? Answering all these questions will really start to make this person feel real to you.
Now, get to writing those well-rounded characters we all love to watch. Make sure you use all the knowledge you’ll develop using these tools above to get your characters in crazy, fun, outrageous and complex situations, tailor-made for this very specific person you just created.
After you bust out these new tips on your short script, consider entering it into the WeScreenplay Short Script Screenwriting Contest! All entries come with FREE feedback!
Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.