No plot or screenplay structure will ever make a reader laugh or cry. It’s the characters that inhabit your script that keep an audience engaged in the story: who they are, what they experience and how they change. As a writer, you must SHOW who your characters are by constructing scenes that reveal your characters personality on the page and that create an emotional response for the reader / viewer.
Here’s a trick you can use to help with the process:
- Draw two columns on a sheet of paper (use separate sheets of paper for each character).
- Label one column: “What I know about my character that is important to the story”.
- Label the other column: “How I will reveal it in a scene”.
TECHNIQUES TO REVEAL CHARACTER:
1. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH ACTIONS AND DECISIONS
Actions provide insight into a character’s mind – without the character having to tell us how he feels or what he thinks. How a character acts or reacts or what decision he makes when faced with a dilemma reveals much about character. When threatened by the villain does your protagonist go to the cops, run and hide, or stand and fight?
2. REVEAL CHARACTER BY CREATING OPPOSITES
Surround a character with opposites. You can contrast him against other characters, against his environment, or even against himself.
3. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH THE USE OF HABITS, MANNERISMS AND QUIRKS
For example: Billy the Kid’s gregarious laugh in Young Guns, Rusty in Ocean’s Eleven eating junk food in almost every scene, Verbal’s stutter in The Usual Suspects, Caroline Burnham’s incessant gardening in American Beauty, and Melvin Udall’s obsessive-compulsive behavior in As Good As It Gets.
4. REVEAL CHARACTER VIA HOW THE CHARACTER LIVES
For example: Where he lives (a mansion on the hill, a tenement building, or stylish urban apartment), how he dresses (Armani suit, surfer shorts, or Dockers), how he conducts his day (drinks day-old coffee from the percolator, stops at Starbucks, has his espresso delivered on a tray by his personal chef.)
5. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH HOW OTHER CHARACTERS FEEL OR INTERACT WITH HIM OR HER
For example: Who he associates with (socialites, criminals, teenagers), what type of relationships he has (familial, casual, intimate). Do other characters fear him, respect him, envy him, love or hate him?
6. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION
A few short, meaningful sentences introducing a character can effectively evoke a picture in the reader’s mind.
7. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH WHAT OTHER CHARACTERS SAY
For example: In Silence of the Lambs, both Crawford’s and Dr Chilton’s warnings to Clarice about Hannibal Lector reveal his brilliant mind and terrifying personality.
8. REVEAL CHARACTER THROUGH DIALOGUE
Your character’s individual ‘voice’ can convey education, upbringing, social standing, temperament and much more. Consider Rocky, Hannibal Lector, and Forrest Gump - each have a distinct voice that effectively reveals character.