Dealing with Characters

Characters form the heart of every screenplay. If nobody cares about your characters, then nobody will care about your screenplay. Here’s how to make your characters stand out.

Don’t choose the names of your characters by chance. Use care when naming your characters since the right name can enhance a character’s personality while the wrong name can sink it. In “Gone with the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell originally called her heroine Pansy O’Hara. At the last minute, she decided to change it to the much stronger and memorable Scarlett O’Hara. Somehow a strong-willed character like Pansy doesn’t quite match up to the same character named Scarlett, even though nothing has changed but the script. That’s the power of names in a screenplay.

Here are two tips that I use when writing a screenplay. First, if I can’t think of a good name for a character, I’ll just use a placeholder, generic name like “Mob boss” or “Hero.” I know I’ll go back later and find a better name, but I don’t want to let the lack of a good name keep me from getting started writing. Never let anything get in the way of writing. After all, the only way you’re going to have a screenplay to submit is if you get it written.

Another trick that I use when naming characters is giving a character a name that has special emotional significance to me. It’s hard to care about a character that’s just another name to you, but if you give that character the name of someone you really love, hate, despise, respect, etc., you’ll find it’s easier to write dialogue and action for that character, assuming that your character and the emotional name you attach to that character are similar.

For my villains, I like to name them after my ex-boss or other people who have annoyed me in the past. Then it’s a lot more fun to write scenes where that person gets decapitated or says something stupid, because you can already visualize the real person doing that in real life.

Likewise, if you have a character that holds positive emotional feelings for you, it’s easier to have other characters be sympathetic to that character because you can already feel the emotion and put that emotion in print so others can feel it too.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your audience knows who you’re really writing about just as long as your character fits your story and evokes strong emotions regardless of the original source. Audiences need to either love, like, hate, or dislike your characters. The worst thing you can do is make an audience not care about your characters. The best thing you can do is make your characters come to life whatever tricks you want to use, whether you want to name your characters after real people from your life or not. As long as audiences feel the emotion in your screenplay, you’ll have succeeded on at least one level.

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