How to Develop Compelling Characters and Why It Matters?

Dynamic character building

Imagine watching a movie where the characters are flat and predictable. You’d probably lose interest quickly, right? As an indie filmmaker, your ability to create compelling personas can make or break your story.

It’s not just about having a great plot; it’s about populating that plot with characters who feel real, who evoke emotions, and who make the audience care.  Over the years, I’ve learned that the audience’s connection to characters can elevate a good story to greatness.

Today I’ll give you some practical tips and insights on how to develop protagonists that truly stand out.

Why compelling characters matter

Characters are the soul of your story. They are the ones the audience follows, roots for, or sometimes despises. Compelling protagonists are essential for several reasons:

  • They drive the plot: They make decisions that propel the story forward. Without their choices and actions, the plot would stagnate. Their motivations and goals create the events that keep the audience engaged and the narrative moving.
  • Engage the audience: They make the audience invested in the story’s outcome. When characters are well-developed and relatable, readers or viewers become emotionally attached. This emotional investment keeps the audience hooked and eager to see what happens next.
  • Convey themes: Through their actions and growth, they help convey the story’s deeper messages. Characters embody the themes and moral questions of the narrative, making these concepts more accessible and impactful for the audience.

Without well-developed personas, even the most interesting plot can fall flat.

1. Start with a strong foundation

Every character needs a backstory. This doesn’t mean you need to share every detail with your audience, but as the creator, you need to know where they come from. Their history shapes who they are and influences their actions and decisions. Understanding their past experiences helps you craft a more consistent and believable character.

Create a character profile that includes their background, family, education, and key life events. This will help you understand their motivations and fears. Consider how their past traumas or successes impact their current behavior and attitudes.

Define their goals and motivations

What does your character want? Why do they want it? These questions are crucial in driving your character’s actions and the story’s plot. Goals give characters direction, while motivations explain why they pursue these goals, adding depth to their actions.

Clearly define both short-term and long-term goals for your characters. Think about what motivates them—love, revenge, survival, ambition—and how these motivations influence their decisions. Ensure that these goals are compelling enough to drive the plot and keep the audience invested.

2. Make them relatable

Character development techniques

Give them flaws! Perfect characters are boring. Flaws make protagonists human and relatable. They provide opportunities for growth and make your characters more interesting. Flaws also create conflict, both internal and external, which is essential for a dynamic story.

Think about your character’s weaknesses and how these can create obstacles in their journey. This not only adds depth but also drives conflict in your story. Consider how these flaws might clash with other characters or lead to mistakes that propel the plot forward.

Show their growth

Characters should evolve over the course of your story. This growth makes their journey compelling and satisfying for the audience. Character development can involve overcoming flaws, learning new skills, or changing perspectives.

Plan out key moments of change for your character. How do they react to challenges? How do their experiences shape their beliefs and actions? Ensure that their growth is realistic and gradual, allowing the audience to follow and understand their transformation.

3. Create distinctive voices

Compelling character traits

Each character should have a distinct way of speaking that reflects their personality, background, and current state of mind. Unique dialogue helps distinguish characters and makes them more memorable.

Write dialogue that sounds natural and true to your character. Pay attention to their word choice, tone, and speech patterns. Consider how their background and personality influence the way they speak and interact with others.

Use body language

Non-verbal communication is just as important as dialogue. How a character moves, their facial expressions, and their gestures can reveal a lot about their internal state. Body language adds a layer of depth to interactions and can convey subtext that dialogue alone cannot.

Show, don’t tell. Use body language to convey emotions and subtext in your scenes. Describe how a character’s posture, movements, and facial expressions change in response to different situations, adding a rich, visual element to their portrayal.

4. Build relationships

Creating believable characters

How your characters interact with others can reveal a lot about them and drive the plot forward. Relationships add complexity to your protagonists and can be a source of conflict or support.

Develop relationships that are complex and dynamic. Think about how different characters’ goals and motivations clash or align. Show how these interactions influence their development and the overall story.

Create conflict and resolution

Conflict is essential for a compelling story. It creates tension and keeps the audience engaged. Conflict can arise from differing goals, personalities, or external pressures.

Use character relationships to create conflict. This can be external (e.g., arguments, competition) or internal (e.g., conflicting desires or beliefs). Plan out how these conflicts will arise, escalate, and eventually resolve, adding depth to your narrative.

5. Avoid stereotypes

Importance of character arcs

Avoid clichés and stereotypes that can make your characters feel one-dimensional. Instead, strive for complexity and depth. Unique personas are more memorable and engaging.

Give your characters unexpected traits or backgrounds. Challenge common stereotypes by creating personas who defy expectations. Think about how you can subvert typical character tropes to create more interesting and original personalities.

Make them multi-dimensional

Real people are complex and multi-faceted. Your characters should be too. Multi-dimensional protagonists can surprise the audience and reveal different aspects of their personalities as the story progresses.

Show different sides of your characters by placing them in varied situations. Let their strengths and weaknesses come to light in different contexts. This will make them feel more realistic and relatable.

6. Test your characters

Character backstory creation

Sometimes it’s hard to see your protagonists objectively. Getting feedback from others can help you identify areas for improvement. Outside perspectives can highlight inconsistencies or areas where your protagonists could be more developed.

Share your character profiles and key scenes with trusted friends or fellow writers. Ask for honest feedback on whether your characters feel real and engaging. Use this feedback to refine and enhance your protagonists.

Revise and refine

Developing compelling characters is an iterative process. Be prepared to revise and refine your protagonists as your story evolves. Don’t be afraid to make significant changes if it improves your story.

Don’t be afraid to make big changes if something isn’t working. Your characters will benefit from the extra attention. Regularly revisit your character profiles and consider how they can be improved or deepened.

Final words

Creating compelling characters is a challenging but rewarding process. Remember to avoid stereotypes, seek feedback, and continually refine your characters. From my experience, protagonists who feel real and evoke genuine emotions can transform a good story into a great one.

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