Character Development in Screenwriting – The Sweet Science of Solid Supporting Characters

In a lot of ways, writing a screenplay (which means understanding character development in screenwriting) is like designing blueprints for a house (which means technically, you did fulfill your mother’s dream of you becoming an architect.) And although we’ve done a lot of work up to this point, I have some good news and some bad news for you – let’s get the bad news out of the way up front, shall we?

The bad news is that, while we have done a lot of work up to this point, it’s all been the architectural equivalent of line drawings and shadings – an essential first step, but nowhere near the finished product. That’s why it’s called character development in screenwriting. The good news is that we’ve now officially completed that stage and have moved on to the design elements, the fun stuff – and in this case, that’s getting into the heads of your characters.

There are a whole host of methods that you can use to further your character development in screenwriting (and as with everything else I tell you, I invite you to research all of this information using Google, Wikipedia, or another research tool), but I’ll go over some of the more commonly used ones by working writers (and even if you don’t know their names, you’ll more than likely recognize most of the projects that they’ve worked on up to this point.) These methods for furthering your character development in screenwriting can include, but are not limited to:

– Writing down the five biggest events in your character’s life – while this may seem like a simple exercise, it is actually quite deceptive in that regard – at least if you do it correctly (in your author’s humble opinion.) The way that you actually make this method most effective is a two-step process: one is to not be reductive in your answers (in other words, write as much as possible), and the other is to not use events that are standard for most people – graduating from high school, getting your first car, etc. By doing that, you force yourself to make your characters stand out – and isn’t that the whole point of writing in the first place?

– Filling out an info sheet (or questionnaire) about your character – you can literally find dozens of these on the internet, and a lot of writers find them to be very, very helpful. Essentially, they force you to lay out the bare essentials of who your character actually is – who their parents are, or if they have any siblings, what kind of car they drive, where they work – and so on. Think of it as a more intensive version of a job application, if you will, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how this tool is supposed to work and have a better understanding of character development in screenwriting.

– Using music as a primer to start writing – I’ll offer a moment of full disclosure here and say that this is the method that your author almost always uses when working on his own feature length screenplays. When I use it, I simply take one song that I really like (and one that I think the characters would like as well) and put it on loop for a few hours at a time. You might be thinking “But wouldn’t that drive you crazy?” No, it actually has the complete opposite effect – you end up tuning it out and focusing more on what’s going on in your head, allowing you to be more in tune with your characters. You can also use this method will full albums as well. A big proponent of this method is Stephen King, and if it works for that guy, it will most likely work for you as well.