How to Create Convincing Characters

May 10, 2024

Characters are the heart of any story, driving the plot and engaging audiences. Every scene they’re in should serve a purpose, advancing the story in a meaningful way.

A character, in the context of a screenplay or literary work, can be any person, animal, or figure represented in the story.

While creating a well-structured plot is crucial, having compelling characters is equally important. A dull lead character that fails to connect with the audience can undermine even the most well-crafted story. Plots are important, but a good movie shouldn’t focus solely on them. Characters bring the plot to life, and if they’re not engaging, the whole script suffers.

It’s essential for characters, including the antagonist and supporting roles, to have motivations and goals. These motivations drive their actions and decisions throughout the film, adding depth to their characters. What are they working towards and how far are they willing to go to achieve their goals? These are some of the questions your characters need to answer with their actions to create a compelling narrative.

Over the years, memorable villains have captured audiences’ attention, often overshadowing the heroes. The success of these villains lies in their well-developed characters, with clear goals and motivations. For instance, Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is hailed as one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. His goal to bring chaos to Gotham and challenge Batman’s beliefs about the pull basic instincts have on people’s tendency to turn chaotic makes him a compelling character. In the end, The Joker manages to turn Harvey Dent, who is Gotham’s White Knight, into a villain, signalling a form of twisted victory for the character.

Creating convincing characters with clear goals and motivations is key. They should be driven to achieve their objectives, adding layers to their personalities rather than being one-dimensional embodiments of evil.

Here are some ways to create convincing characters for your screenplay:


Joker in The Dark Knight - Creating Convincing Characters

The Dark Knight (2008) | Warner Bros.


1. Create Likable Characters Early On

The Joker’s introduction in The Dark Knight is a prime example of a captivating character introduction. The scene, set in a bank heist, showcases the Joker’s ruthless yet calculated nature. He orchestrates a series of betrayals among his accomplices, culminating in a chaotic standoff that leaves viewers intrigued by his unpredictable and cunning personality.

Similarly, Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s introduction in Guardians of the Galaxy immediately endears him to the audience. His playful demeanor, accompanied by music and dance, establishes him as a charming rogue. This combination of criminality and charisma makes him relatable and likable to viewers.

It’s crucial to create characters that feel human and relatable, avoiding flat, one-dimensional characters solely driven by the plot. Audiences connect with characters who have depth and flaws, making them more engaging and realistic.

A common mistake is to make protagonists overly virtuous, leading to uninteresting and unrealistic characters. Instead, characters like Klaus in The Originals, who are morally complex, can still evoke sympathy and support from viewers due to their compelling motivations and relationships.


2. Develop Detailed Characters

Each character should possess unique traits and motivations, mirroring the complexity of real individuals. For instance, a character belonging to a gang that favors fashionable suits should have a reason for this choice, such as using style to mask their true identity outside of criminal activities.

When crafting characters, avoid adding superficial details that do not contribute to their depth or the story’s progression. While these details may not be explicitly explored in the narrative, they should serve as foundational elements for you, the creator, to navigate the character’s development smoothly.

Personally, I begin by creating backstories for my key characters before diving into the script. These backstories provide insights into the character’s psyche and help me anticipate their reactions in various situations, enhancing their authenticity within the story.


3. Let Your Characters Drive the Story

Your characters should feel like real people with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Unless you’re writing a story based on your own experiences, you shouldn’t dictate every action your characters take, especially in crucial moments.

Once you’ve developed backstories for your characters, try to think like them. Understand their perspectives and instincts to guide their decisions authentically, rather than imposing your own views onto them.

For example, imagine a scenario where a house is on fire. As the writer, you might think the heroic choice is to save everyone. However, if your character is cowardly or selfish, they would likely act in self-preservation rather than risking their life for others.

If you find yourself changing scenes or outcomes as you write, don’t see it as a flaw. This process allows your characters to guide the story, leading to more genuine and compelling narratives.


Les Miserables

Les Miserables (2012)


4. Make Every Word Count in Your Dialogue

Dialogue is a powerful tool for revealing character traits and advancing the plot. Ensure that every line of dialogue serves a purpose and contributes to the story in a meaningful way.

Each character’s speech should reflect their background, personality, and intentions. For example, a character with a French accent immediately conveys their nationality without the need for additional explanation.

Similarly, subtle details in speech, like a slight Russian accent, can hint at a character’s backstory or experiences. This adds depth to the character without overt exposition.

Dialogue should also convey a character’s point of view and emotions. Instead of long-winded explanations, use subtext and indirect speech to reveal feelings and thoughts. This not only makes the dialogue more engaging but also allows actors to better understand and portray their characters.

By crafting meaningful dialogue, you create a more immersive experience for your audience and provide actors with the tools they need to bring your characters to life on screen.


In conclusion, creating convincing characters is essential for any successful screenplay. By making characters relatable, detailed, and autonomous, you can engage your audience and elevate your storytelling. Remember, every character should have a clear goal and motivation, driving their actions and decisions throughout the story. Whether you’re writing a hero, a villain, or a supporting character, giving them depth and complexity will enrich your screenplay and captivate your audience. So, the next time you’re crafting a character, delve deep into their psyche, let them take the reins, and watch as they bring your story to life on the screen.


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