How to write an authentic and compelling character: Part 2

Hello filmmakers! Have you read our most recent post on how to write an authentic and compelling character? This week, we have part two of this topic and some more helpful tips that will get you started with character development!

Give protagonists special qualities

Protagonists and main characters with special traits can effectively get the audience engaged and thinking about the film’s main takeaway. Director Randy Kelly, winner behind ‘Autobiography of a Body‘ suggests that “fictional characters should be invested with the personality traits of real people to make them compelling. Endearing and annoying traits, character strengths and flaws can be exaggerated and/or blended from various people you know to create complex yet authentic characters.”

In the short film ‘Anosognosia’, the protagonist’s hands are trapped together, making it difficult to do everyday tasks. Similarly, the message of the film portrays how easy it can be to feel trapped by a mental illness. The use of the unique quality of literally being “trapped” helps develop a strong character and develop empathy. Giving characters clear and specific goals as well as making it difficult for your character to reach the goals enhances powerful character development (Source).

The filmmaker behind ‘Anosognosia’ – Leesa Kim – describes comedy as a challenge that she enjoys tackling, especially comedy that deals with serious topics. Says Leesa: “Comedy can often make topics more easily digestible. Laughing at something on screen that wouldn’t normally be a cause for laughter can initiate a viewer’s personal thought process about said topic.”


Create a dynamic character and utilize personification

A dynamic character changes throughout the course of a film due to the conflicts they encounter on their journey (Source). Having a dynamic character enhances audience engagement as the changes that make the character dynamic are usually implied instead of stated outright, so careful analysis is required to discover them (Source).

The film ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ personifies OCD as a character whose ‘symptoms’ battles with the protagonist. Eric Bass, filmmaker behind this short notes how the film “was an exercise in discomfort. It’s a serious topic that is told in a joking way. It’s a real issue with a fake personification. It takes two gentle people and sticks them with a vulgar loose cannon, and it the reality of the room itself changes twice.” Eric admits that he wasn’t sure if the film was going to work and as the editing took place realized it was more comedic than intended, not knowing how it would affect the audience. Says Eric “it was a great reminder that at a certain point in the process, a film becomes sentient and takes on a life of it’s own and it’s the job of the director to be it’s parent. You bring it into existence as best you can, but at a certain point, all you can do is guide it instead of control it.”

Lean on filmmaking techniques to help

To keep the storyline interesting, it’s critical that characters speak in their own unique voices. Not only that, but having strong dialogue will help the audience figure out who the character is within moments of them speaking their first words on the screen (Source). However, powerful dialogue doesn’t necessarily need a lot of spoken dialogue.

To develop both your characters and powerful dialogue, utilizing subtle filmmaking tools can help. Abby Thompson, filmmaker of ’When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’ mentions how “specific images and nuance to the story is important. Show and suggest ideas visually, try to not explicitly say things with dialogue. Another way to do this is to make every element in the film thoughtful and with purpose. From the color of the pillows on the couch, to the music, to deciding between shooting handheld vs. locked down on a tripod. Each decision can elevate the content of the film by doing technical and formal work.” Check out Abby’s film below to see lots of examples of how her filmmaking style and emphasis on different elements in each scene contribute to the overall message of the film.

Despite which tips and methods work best for you, it is important to put careful detail into your characters during the early stages of screenplay development (Source). Next time we’ll be discussing how to build effective storylines and statements to help create more impactful short films. Be sure to share any feedback or comments about this blog in the comment section below or connect with us on social media!

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