Telling Compelling Stories 2: Creating Character

What makes a film a masterpiece? What makes it resonate with the audience? Most importantly, what makes it tell a story?

The best stories have a few simple elements: a simple structure, relatable characters, an engaging purpose. We’re exploring each of these elements over a few blog posts. If you haven’t already, get started with our first instalment Starting with Structure. This week, we’re delving into character development.

Here at Imagination Station we’re big fans of movie-making, and the key to a really great film or story is having easily identifiable characters. They help the audience relate to the theme of the film as well as follow events as they unfold. 

Creating a character can be overwhelming when you start to consider all the possible experiences this character has had leading up to the story you’ve decided to tell. So just how much background does a character need? And what makes a character interesting or boring?


The Audience Loves an Underdog

"We’re all looking for someone to believe in, and according to Pixar, we tend to admire characters more for their effort than their successes. "

We’re all looking for someone to believe in, and according to Pixar, we tend to admire characters more for their effort than their successes.   

If they aren’t struggling with something important, there’s no reason for the audience to believe they’ll take action. A character with nothing at stake isn’t an interesting person to follow. Make sure that your character has good reasons for any big decisions. 


All Rounders

As much as we love a strong character, there have to be some shortcomings or weaknesses to help the plot develop. If your character can just magic themselves out of any situation, or is always having lucky or coincidental escapes, it’s not going to impress the audience. When faced with a problem, write down the easiest way out of that situation. Then, don’t use that way out: make the character resort to something that is a real challenge for them. 


Giving your Character Credibility 

Plausible characters have opinions and learn things for themselves. If you’re struggling for plot, consider what your character is good at. What are they comfortable with? Throw the opposite at them and explore how they cope with that.

If you aren’t sure how a character would react to a certain situation, consider how you would feel. Your real thoughts and feelings will give the character realism. Those feelings are how the audience will connect with your story.


Condense the Cast

 

"Trying to remember the motives of 20 characters takes a lot of effort for your audience. A good solution is to reintroduce an earlier character where they can offer the same input into the story, or fill the same role."
An elaborate story with a massive cast is totally realistic—how often do we have recurring characters in real life? Unfortunately, too many characters actually just end up making a story harder to follow. Trying to remember the motives of 20 characters takes a lot of effort for your audience. A good solution is to reintroduce an earlier character where they can offer the same input into the story, or fill the same role. For example, to fulfill the role of moral or other guidance, having an elderly wise woman and an earthy spirit guide in the same story is probably overkill. Similarly, the role of thief can be played by either a pesky local shepherd boy or a naughty younger sibling, and you’ll save time and energy using a character you’ve already gone to the trouble of introducing. It might feel like you’re cutting important people out of the story, but as long as their role is fulfilled believably, the fewer side characters the better. 

 


Telling Compelling Stories 1: Starting with Structure is available here.


Telling Compelling Stories 3: Providing Purpose will be coming up next, so keep an eye on our blog page!


For more information about our Storytelling and Movie-making classes and our downloadable movie-making worksheets, check out the ‘Learn at Home’ section of our website here.