Empathy Map — Creating Characters

In order to get the most out of the empathy map, all of these should be things that the characters encounter on a daily basis. If executed correctly, you’ll find that a funny thing begins to happen – your characters, slowly, but surely, should start to begin to really take form, and instead of just dealing with vague, interchangeable traits, you’ll find yourself with parts that actors will absolutely be chomping at the bit to play.

Let’s do an exercise that will actually put all of this information (and I know there’s a lot here on character development in screenplays guys, but trust me – it’s totally worth it) into some sort of context that you can actually use it in. After you have created an empathy map of your characters, take a look at the traits that you wrote down on your empathy map, and really, really look it over.

Do you see those parts of your character that they wouldn’t want the world to know about if they were an actual, flesh and blood person? Those are the ones you want to pay attention to. There’s no exact way to quantify what you’re supposed to be looking for – remember, this isn’t a math problem we’re working on here – but like the old saying goes, “You’ll know it when you see it.” Then you just have to answer one simple question – over the course of your script, is your character forced to confront those things?

If the answer is yes, congratulations – you’re totally headed down the right track (and you understand character development in screenplays!) If your answer was no, then you need to go back and stack the deck against your protagonist a little more until they have to run head first into the things they’re most uncomfortable with confronting about themselves. Once you’ve gotten to that point, it’s there that things start to really get interesting – you’ll notice that, seemingly out of nowhere, your characters suddenly sound, and react, like real people. They have real world needs and wants and emotions – they’re, well… people – or almost people, anyway and that shows that you’ve mastered character development in screenplays.

This is where things start to get interesting now – if you’re smart, you’ll figure out a way to get your antagonist to force your protagonist to confront these things about themselves – to “pull it out of them,” if you will. Those traits that they are afraid of are going to be key to the climax, because really when the whole thing comes down to it, that’s what we’ve been building towards this whole time – the protagonist having to overcome themselves, warts and all. The antagonist is merely a physical representation of the protagonist’s struggle to find some sort of inner peace within themselves.

I know some of this might sound hokey to you right now (it’s all part of understanding character development in screenplays,) but seriously – this kind of stuff is why we go to the movies in the first place. We want to see people overcome something within themselves, because when we hop in our cars and head back home, it makes us feel like we can overcome those same challenges within ourselves.