A Guide to Writing Believable, Captivating Characters

A Guide to Writing Believable, Captivating Characters

Characters are a fundamental element to a successful story, yet many screenwriters overlook this. We’ve put together an essential checklist to help if you’re struggling to make your characters stand out.

1. Unique Traits

When writers hear the word ‘original’, they often feel like their character needs to be something that people haven’t seen before. However, creating a simple unique trait can instantly make them stand out. Two great examples are Jake Gyllenhaal’s blinking twitch in Prisoners, and Jaeden Lieberher’s stutter in IT. Both archetypes have been depicted in films countless times, but their unique traits ground them in reality, ultimately making them feel more real.







2. Strengths and Weaknesses

No matter how strong someone is, they will always have a weakness. Think of Superman vs Kryptonite. Introducing an opposing threat is a great way of making your characters feel grounded as well as bringing conflict into your narrative. Having them attempt to overcome this weakness is the starting point for a captivating story. A great example is Toy Story’s Woody. Despite being the strong, authoritative figure, he feels threatened by Buzz and suffers because of it. Similarly, despite how weak your character is, it’s always powerful to give them a particular strength, whether it’s psychological or physical. Always remember that flaws are what make us human.








3. Good and Evil

One vital thing new writers often overlook is the concept of a character having both good and evil traits. If you analyse anyone, you’ll notice that their personality is a small mix of good and bad. If you were to put someone through an intense situation, you’d quickly notice that these could be perceived as good and evil. When creating your characters, imagine how they would act under certain situations. Don’t be scared to sympathise with your villain and give your hero flaws. A great example is Walter White. Simply put, he’s a bad person with an oddly justifiable and reasonable motive. Megamind also explores a villain who has a good heart.








4. Internal and External Conflicts

Similar to having strengths and weaknesses, characters need to have conflicts to battle. Giving them both an internal conflict as well as an external one give your character a multi-dimensional edge. This can be done with both your heroes and villains. A great example is No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. He often struggles with an internal conflict against himself for his obsessive compulsion regarding fate, as well as an external conflict of Llewelyn and the money.

5. A Clear Want/Goal

Renowned writer Kurt Vonnegut stated, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water”. Having a character goal is the driving force that will keep your narrative moving. Think of Frodo Baggins’ goal in destroying the ring, or Luke Skywalker’s goal of destroying the Empire. Of course, not every character need to have a narrative-driven goal of this scale, but by giving each character a goal (no matter how small), you’ll give the illusion that they are a real person that could function outside of the narrative.


Think about your protagonist and antagonist; What are their unique traits (if any)? Do they have both strengths and weaknesses? Could an audience sympathise with your villain, and does your hero have flaws? What are their internal and external conflicts? And finally, what are their goals/needs/wants?

Use this check list to give your characters meaning and depth that will ultimately elicit an emotional response in your viewer.

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