In the current 1-week online class I’m teaching — Create a Compelling Protagonist — we have had an incredible experience, more than two dozen writers from all around the world uploading literally hundreds of posts, providing feedback and suggestions for each participant as they workshop their Protagonists. The energy is phenomenal and the quality of the comments equally so.
A question has come up: How much character development is enough?
In theory, I don’t think you can do too much character development. I say this coming from a specific place: Most of the scripts I read that aren’t good enough suffer because the characters are too thinly drawn, not complex enough to be compelling or interesting.
But Scott, I’m writing a genre piece, not “War and Peace.” Do I really need to do that much character development?
Yes, I think you do. Your job is to make your characters lift up off the page and come alive in the imagination of a script reader. To do that, you have to know them in a deep, personal, and specific way.
Otherwise you run the risk of just trafficking in caricatures.
That said, you’re not going to put all of what you know about your characters in the script. Rather most of the background and insights you have about your characters will exist off-screen.
Think of character work like an iceberg:
What you see above the surface of the water? That is what emerges in your script through a character’s actions and dialogue.
What you see below the surface? That is the depth of what you learn about the character when you develop them.
Bios. Questionnaires. Monologues. Sit-downs. Interviews. Archetypes. Whatever tools and techniques you use to go into your characters.
That informs your understanding of your characters.
That enables you to hear their voice.
That brings them to life.
All that content below the surface provides the foundation of what emerges of each character in your script.
So as you develop your characters, especially when you wonder if the effort is worth it, remember this: Everything you learn about your characters is helping to create an iceberg of understanding. Th3 10% that appears in the script derives from and is supported by the 90% of the work you do to bring that character to life.
Want to up your chops at character development? On May 20, I will be offering the companion class to Create a Compelling Protagonist. It’s called Write a Worthy Nemesis and you can learn about it here. If it’s anything like this current session, it will be awesome! So join me for a great week of learning, writing and creativity!