Character-Driven Storylines

A simple tool for improving your character game.

One of my biggest weaknesses is writing and developing characters.1

I’ve tried a few biography-style exercises to help with this — at one point, I even completed Myers-Briggs personality tests for each character to help me understand how their mind works(!) But I’ve always struggled to translate that effort into the things those characters actually do.

So when I gave the latest version of my pilot script to a friend for feedback, they suggested this framework for writing storylines within an episode:

I’ve found this incredibly useful.

I’ve read about structure a lot, so I wasn’t surprised by the first and last points. But I’d never heard the middle two points expressed in that way.

This reminded me of a similar thing I read in 21st Century Screenplay:

Think about what your characters do and might do, rather than what they are. For example, rather than decide that your character is ‘insecure’ in the abstract, think what actions in your plot might already indicate insecurity, or how you might angle the plot to demonstrate insecurity.

I know it all sounds really simple when written out like this, but it was exactly what I needed to sort out the problems in my latest draft — so I hope you find it useful too!

  1. I sometimes get the feedback that I’m being too hard on myself in this blog, but I can assure you that I don’t feel bad about this — mostly thanks to this great Film Courage video, in which Corey Mandell describes the two types of writers. I am a “conceptual” writer (who is better at e.g. plotting and story logic), rather than an “intuitive” one (who is better at e.g. writing authentic character moments).
  2. As conceptual writers are want to do!

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