5 Tips for Writing Better Characters

We don’t know Noam Kroll’s work – sorry, Noam! – but we sure like the way he writes about working. We’re extra glad that he’s only giving 5 tips here cuz any more and our brains would most likely burst:

by Noam Kroll

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Writing a screenplay is a balancing act, and while all the components need to work together in harmony, the one component that can really make or break the script (in my opinion) is the character. In other words, you could have the most beautifully written story arc, and perfect structure to your script, but if your lead character is dull and flat then everything else falls to pieces. Conversely though, you may have story that needs work and the general pacing may be off, but if your lead character is compelling, your audience will remain engaged in the film regardless of some of the flaws it may have. In ideal world, you want to find that balance I mentioned above, where all of the components are working together harmoniously, and one sure way to start out in the right direction is to first focus on writing layered characters with meaning and purpose.

Here are my top 5 tips for writing stronger characters into your screenplay:

#1 – Make your character likeable early on

If you expect your audience to root for your lead character for the next 90 minutes of the film, you had better do something early on to make sure that you’ve earned that. Some screenwriting gurus (Blake Snyder in particular), stress this point above all else – and for good reason. Without a character to root for, your story has nothing going for it. The audience needs to identify with someone early on, and if your characters are generally unlikeable (even if you may think they’re interesting), it simply won’t be enough to sustain a script. Often times screenwriters will write their lead character in a way that would be more suitable to write an antagonist. They might have a few snappy lines of dialogue here or there, but generally they feel like a negative, self serving force in the grand scheme of the film and often have no redeeming qualities of their own.

Writing likeable characters can be done in an infinite amount of ways. For instance, simply as writing strong dialogue that shows how witty or charming the character may be can go a long way. Or they could be made likeable through their actions, showing a selfless act early on in the film to establish them as a positive force. And keep in mind, all of this can be done in the context of the world you are writing in, and by no means has to paint your characters as perfect people. If you’re writing The Sopranos, you can still make the audience root for Tony Soprano, because you see the value that he puts on his family and the vulnerability that he has as a person struggling with depression. Within the context of a different story, Tony Soprano may be a flat out bad guy with no redeeming qualities, but in the Sopranos he is surrounded by people that are objectively worse than him, and as such he can still rise above and show the audience that he is the character that is the most like them. The bottom line is however you do it, whether it’s through dialogue, actions, humour or any other means – get your audience rooting for your lead as early as possible.

#2 – Build realistic & detailed characterization

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