Think of your favourite story. What makes it so memorable? The tone? The action? The message?
Chances are, it is the way the characters behave. A character is the first link between the public and a story, as such, it should be immediately compelling. When they first came on screen, the public should be wondering who they are and what they’re going to do.
Characters are what make or break a film. Even if a story has an interesting plot, it will be practically unwatchable if your characters are badly created. Though this is absolutely challenging for any beginner storyteller, it’s one of the most important skills you should be working on from the start of your career.
Look for Inspiration
Watch your favourite director’s filmography and try to see beyond the obvious. Try to figure out how the character was presented, what are their likes and dislikes and how that comes across in both the dialogue and action. What’s more, go back to your favourite books and see how the characters behave in them.
You shouldn’t be paying attention just to the heroes, but to everyone involved in the story. Remember that not every well-written character has to be likeable, in fact, is often the most unlikeable that become the most compelling and memorable.
Give Them a Background
Even if the story you’re telling only covers a few days of your character’s lives, you should map out their entire journeys. Get a sense of why they’ve become who’ve they’ve become. What were they like when they were kids and how the world shapes them. This is crucial when crafting their reactions to whatever happens in the story. When you know how your character has been all their lives, you know how they will react which will allow you to write credible story-lines, rather than improvise. It will make the overall plot a lot more cohesive.
Likewise, you need to know exactly what moves your characters. In other words, their motivations. Always remember what makes them tick and what they’re looking to gain from whatever interactions they have among themselves. This is what makes the difference between a character that seems to do things at random and one that the audience can connect with on a deeper level.
Map it Out
Chart their journeys. A great way to do this is to create two separate timelines, one with events that are meant to happen in the story and another one of the inner journeys each character will go through, then see how they overlap. The characters should be accurately reacting to the events that are unfolding.
In this stage, you’ll need to weed out any inconsistencies. Most writers get really attached to their ideas of where a story was going or what a certain character was going to do, but this is something you want to avoid since its most likely results are constrained stories or Deus Ex Machinas. If a character has outgrown a path, or a story no longer works the way you originally planned it out, it’s best to go back to the drawing board than to force the universe you created into a timeline that’s no longer valid.