Character Depth: Making Characters More Engaging for the Audience
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
By Jen B.
Why is character depth such an integral part of a successful screenplay? How does it elevate the standard of the story?
As a screenwriter your focus may be on the general storyline and the screenplay format to use in your own writing but one thing some screenwriters tend to ignore is character depth. Character depth can make or break your story for the reader, this is what keeps the audience engaged and interested in the story. A screenwriter should create their characters as such that the people reading the story are interested in your characters and care about them.
A strong character with a good background story and that ‘something special’ can attract the readers’ attention much more than some person who is going through the motions just so the plot moves on. Giving your character a unique aspect that differentiates them from all the other characters out there is how you will get your story to be loved by people. Your character should have cathartic moments where you portray their journey, their development and level of change they went through at the end of the movie.
Screenplay ideas that are out of this world and captivating for the reader is a must for stories but if the characters that you have created do not have something interesting to recognize them by or they’re not helping the story become better then all of your effort will go to waste. Writing screenplays that sell is one of the incentives for screenwriters to produce and put out screenplays with continuity but it is important to focus on the small details of the screenplay as well. These small details and elements of a screenplay character’s story can make the reader more interested in trying to understand the character and give the character more depth.
If you are wondering how to give your character some depth to separate them from the rest then read these following tips:
• Having Your Character Suffer from a Mental Disability
What we mean by this is not that you state or announce that your character suffers from any mental disability just to get sympathy for the character from the audience. You can show your character as someone who struggles with mental disabilities like OCD, Agoraphobia, or PTSD. While identifying their problem, you should showcase their character in a way that helps the overall story and becomes a part of it.
When your character goes through their daily lives and you show how hard it is for them, how they have suffered from it, you explore the psyche of that character and explain why they chose something or where it all started from, a flashback in screenplay would work for that angle.
Overcoming the problem that your character faced can make the audience rejoice with them, smiling and crying along with the character.
• No One is Perfect
A screenplay may be fictional but the stories are all based on reality. Human beings are not perfect by nature. We make mistakes and take stupid decisions that we may regret later. If this fact is known by everyone, then how can your character be perfect?
If your character is seemingly perfect then that makes the reader relate less to them and eventually lose interest in them. Your character needs more depth and should have some story or reasoning behind their behavior that forces them to act a certain way. Personality flaws in a character can make them more relatable and provide character depth. The character trying to overcome that flaw is what people can get behind watching the process with more interest. In The Mandalorian, people love the main character because of his journey and changes that he brought in his self, going from killing people for money to doing everything to protect the precious Baby Yoda, stealing people’s hearts while at it.
• Show your Character’s Struggle with a Physical Disability
It will be a bad idea if you give your character a physical disability expecting immediate character depth, because that does not happen. For a physical disability to effectively give more depth to your character’s personality you need to skillfully include and interweave it with the main conflict of the story plot. Forrest Gump is a classic example of this. Forrest Gump has a curved spine due to which he cannot walk properly and has to wear leg braces. In the movie, we can see him trying to run away from bullies and with a little motivation in those famous words “Run Forrest, Run!”, what do you know! He actually does start running, amazing everyone.
Many screenplays and movies have used this trick and if done right, it has the power to make people empathize with the character and get them to feel their pain.
• Entice People with Mystery and Secrets
This trick is like killing two birds with one stone, it will give not only your character some needed depth but will also add to the story. Everyone loves a good mysterious character done well. Develop your character as such that they seem normal but then spin it around to show how they are trying their best to keep a secret, a secret that must not be found out by anyone.
The temptation of figuring out the secret and what it could mean for it to be released into the world, its consequences, can keep the reader or audience hooked to the story.
• The Life of Addiction of Your Character
Addiction is an intense theme to portray in a story. Character depth can be added in a story by giving your character an addiction, it can be anything from drugs, technology, gambling, or even shopping.
In Confessions of a Shopaholic, Rebecca has an addiction to shopping which affects her life which is given a comedic angle in the story. In Beautiful Boy, teenager Nicholas Sheff seems to have it all with the picture perfect life but what people do not find out till later is that he is addicted to meth, and that addiction threatens to destroy his life.
Keeping the theme, behavior and struggles of the character with addiction relatable should be a key goal of a screenwriter to drive home the intensity to the reader or audience.