Writing a Screenplay — Character Writing

Writing a screenplay is an inherently tricky thing. When I was in film school, I had a feature screenplay writing professor who was also the only faculty member in the program who’d had a professionally produced credit, at the time, and was easily the best professor there who always used to get on us about the importance of character and how, in fact, it was the most important thing for a screenwriter to get a grasp of. He’d always say “If your characters are good enough, you’ll follow them through anything,” and although I’ve long since graduated from the program, those words always stick with me when I’m working on a script – character above all else, even, and including, the plot.

If you want proof of this, take a look at some of the biggest comedies of the last few years – 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad – these are not byzantine, Agatha Christie esque labyrinths of plot. What they do have in their favor, however, is characters that are highly likeable and relatable. As a result, a funny thing happens to us as we watch these movies – we begin to actually start giving a damn about what happens to them. If you can make an audience care about what happens to the people you’ve put on the page, you’ve already mastered one of the hardest parts of writing a screenplay.

“But what if I’m not good at writing likeable people? How can I finish writing a screenplay?” you might find yourself saying right now – don’t worry, as you happen to be in luck. You see, we’re now, probably more than ever, in fact, living in the age of the antihero. Remember, one of the biggest television heroes of the last television decade – you might have heard of him – was a dying chemistry teacher who became the biggest meth kingpin in New Mexico’s history.