III: Who are Your Characters?

A lonely, WWII vet begrudgingly accepts a ride across the country from his younger, secretly envious brother to attend the funeral of the woman they both loved in their youth.

It took longer than I would care to admit for me to come up with that log line, but when I did, it came out exactly like that. That is my story’s nutshell. It is a road trip screenplay between two brothers who have spent their whole lives competing against each other. If you remember the last article you can see I have a Hero and Villain as well as the conflict word begrudgingly. There is also a goal, attend the funeral of the woman and finally the stakes they both loved. For my very first log line I can clearly see the screenplay I am trying to build.

Finding Your Characters

Take a look at the log line you have created. You should see some different characters written between the line. Of course there is the HERO and the VILLAIN but what other characters do you see?

Let’s review the log line as it appears at the top of this post. Of course there are the Hero and the Villain but there is also direct mention of a LOVE INTEREST. The words in their youth tell me that there will probably younger versions of the Hero and Villain in the story so I will need a set of parents for the two boys. WWII vet means that I will require buddies for the Hero, maybe a MENTOR and a SIDE KICK. If you remember that a story is about Showing, not Telling then nearly every word could introduce possible characters. Across the country means gas station attendants, wait staff, hotel staff. This story will be filled with extras, but right now we are focusing on the characters who will actually play a role in the file

LOVE INTEREST, MENTOR and SIDE KICK are all roles a character plays in the story. Just as an actor plays a role, so does the character play a role. The role of the Side Kick is to be support to the Hero, the Mentor; their trainer. I capitalize the role because I see it as a character’s title. A Villain could have a Minion (rather than Side Kick) or an Advisor (rather than Mentor). Look for the different possible character roles in your log line and try to fill them.

There is Only One

The most important piece of character advise I can give at this point is that there is only one character for each role. There is only one Hero, even in a story where there is a group struggling against the same evil. One is the Hero and the other characters all play another role (as mentioned above). If you’re Hero is up against a group of bad guys, such as a terrorist cell or kidnappers then create the cell’s leader and appoint him to be the Villain. Everyone else plays a role to help the Villain. Even the Comedy Relief is only one. If you have a pair of individuals providing comedy relief then one is the straight man while the other is the joke man (watch some of the classic comedy teams to see how the two different roles work). Only one character per role and you will ensure that your story is not oversaturated with unnecessary characters.

Developing Your Characters

No character springs out of your head fully formed. While I know a lot about my Hero already, I don’t know everything. Remember those additional questions from the first article? You do? Good because we’re going to use those to develop our characters. One of the first questions I have about my Hero is, how old is he? In my story were events will dictate the Hero’s age. He’s a WWII vet who signed up in 1939 at 17 years old (a story point). During the time of the story he is now 96 years old, setting the film in the year 2018. Take a moment and write down those answers. Are their any more questions about your hero? If so, determine some answers and move on. Do they same for any other characters that your questions seem to create. What did his parents think of joining the army? Now I need to create parents. They may not appear in the story, but I expect he has them. The nice thing is the Hero and Villain in my story share the same parents, but each parent will have a different opinion of each child making their development a little more time consuming.

Character development takes time. Start with histories. When was your character born? Where were they born? What was their schooling like? Marriages? Children? To make it easier break your character’s life’s into decade long chucks. What was their first 10 years of life like? The second decade. The third and so on. So for my Hero and Villain I will have 9 different blocks of information for each since the Hero is 96 and the Villain will be 93 (he’ll have his 94th birthday on the road). Even the love interest will have 9 decades of history since she died during her 95th year.

External Influences

Article IV will discuss the character’s internal monologue. His deepest darkest thoughts and secrets. Right now keep it external events. What if your Hero moved far away from his friends when he was 12 describe why they moved and who the character left behind. How the character felt about moving will be part of the next article. Right now your building a timeline of events in each characters past. This will help you keep everything straight when her character talks about their past. Even if you don’t expect to talk about anyone’s past, make sure you complete this exercise because you will need to use it next time.

We both have a lot of writing ahead of us, so let’s get to work.




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