How to Create Characters for a Screenplay

If your protagonist just goes through the entire script getting everything they want without having to really work for it, which more than likely means he’s weak, this would indicate that whoever wrote it did not know how to create characters. Chances are your screenplay will not be very compelling. Take note here how I avoid the word “good” – you don’t want good because you want compelling, because compelling means people care when they read the script, which means it’s more likely to actually be produced.

Therefore, in order to have a screenplay that excites and compels people (meaning you understand how to create characters), you need to have a great antagonist. Here are a couple of suggestions that you should keep in the back of your mind when trying to fully flesh out your antagonist:

1. Make them an equal to your protagonist – don’t fall into what I call “The Superman Dilemma.” Superman is a hard character to get right on film because no matter how badly the antagonist wants to stop him, and no matter how smart or strong they are, they lose because, well, he’s Superman – he’s literally indifferent to everything on Earth and isn’t bound by the same laws of physics as we are. As a result, there’s never any question that he’s going to win, so there are no dramatic stakes. We have to at least think that the protagonist has a chance of not winning the fight. If your movie is about a shark, the bad shark had better be as big, if not bigger, than the protagonist shark – no one wants to see Jaws beat up on Flipper.

2. Try and make them the inverse of the protagonist, if at all possible – One of the reasons that Darth Vader works well as an antagonist is that he is, quite literally, Luke’s mirror image – they’re both the last of their kind, and they both possess the same unique skill set, but they stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The ability to do this shows that you have a great awareness of how to create characters.

3. It doesn’t have to be a person – You can have the antagonist be an animal, a natural disaster – it really doesn’t matter. As long as it stands between the protagonist getting from where they are to where they need to be, that’s the only thing that really matters. Don’t get caught up in worrying about representing the villain if it’s not a person – much like Batman. It’s the symbolism here that counts when it comes to understanding how to create characters.