A Screenwriter’s Character Checklist

CharacterStreetSignOn Tuesday I posted a concept checklist for screenwriters from the writing/producing team at Scheherazade Productions.  Their website is Worplayer.com.  As promised, here is Part II on Character.

Screenwriting varies greatly from novel writing, but many of the items lend themselves to both sides of the spectrum and are good to keep in mind when developing your characters and story.

The checklist is broken into three parts (the third section deals with technical execution), and is intended to help Hollywood readers find great scripts.  For writers, it’s a resource to utilize to get past the gatekeepers by creating unforgettable characters and worlds.

  1. Are the parts castable?  Does the film have roles stars will want to play?
  2. Action and humor should emanate from the characters, and not just thrown in for the sake of a laugh.  Comedy which violates the integrity of the characters or oversteps the reality-world of the film may get a laugh, but it will ultimately unravel the picture.
  3. Audiences want to see characters who care deeply about something — especially other characters.
  4. Is there one scene where the emotional conflict of the main character comes to a crisis point?
  5. A character’s entrance should be indicative of the characters’s traits.  The first impression of a character is important.
  6. Lead characters must be sympathetic — people we care about and want to root for.
  7. What are the characters wants and needs?  What is the lead character’s dramatic need?  Needs should be strong, definite, and clearly communicated to the audience.
  8. What does the audience want for the characters?  It’s all right to be either for or against a particular character — the only unacceptable emotion is indifference.
  9. Concerning characters and action: a person is what s/he does, not necessarily what s/he says.
  10. On character faults: characters should be “this but also that” complex.  Characters with doubts and faults are more believable, and more interesting.  Heroes who have done wrong and villains with noble motives are better than characters who are straight black and white.
  11. Characters can be understood in terms of “what is their greatest fear?”
  12. Character traits should be independent of the character’s role.  i.e. A banker who fiddles with his gold watch is memorable, but cliche; a banker who breeds dogs is a somehow more acceptable detail.
  13. Character conflicts should be both internal and external.  Characters should struggle with themselves, and with others.
  14. Character POVs need to be distinctive within an individual screenplay.  Characters should not all think the same.  Each character needs to have a definite point of view in order to act, and not just react.
  15. Distinguish characters by their speech patterns: word choice, sentence patterns; revealed background, level of intelligence.
  16. “Character superior” sequences (where the character acts on information the audience does not have) usually don’t work for very long — the audience gets lost.  On the other hand, when the audience is in a “superior” position — the audience knows something that the characters do not — it almost always works.  (NOTE: This does not mean the audience should be able to predict the plot!)
  17. Run each character through as many emotions as possible — love, hate, laugh, cry, revenge.
  18. Characters must change.  What is the character’s arc?
  19. The reality of the screenplay world is defined by what the reader knows of it, and the reader gains that knowledge from the characters.  Unrealistic character actions imply an unrealistic world; fully-designed characters convey the sense of a realistic world.
  20. Is the lead involved with the story throughout?  Do they control the outcome of the story?

I hope you find this checklist useful!  It definitely gives us a number of things to consider.

Happy Writing!


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