HOW DO YOU DEVELOP CHARACTERS?
PERSONALLY, I LIVE WITH THEM
The whole question of character development is vastly important. If people act out of character, that tends to strain credibility.
On the other hand, they cannot be allowed to become boringly predictable—and, where the main protagonists are concerned, they must evolve.
Balancing all that is no easy task—but it is something a screenwriter must do in very limited screenplay and screen time. Let me emphasize the word “limited.’ In a book, a character can agonize for pages. In a movie, you are dependent on the visual and very limited dialog.
There are also casting limits. You may well not know who is likely to be cast when writing the screenplay, but if the stars have been decided, your flexibility is decidedly limited. The audience has expectations of stars and rarely like to see them acting against type.
Mind you, some actors are so talented they defy the conventions, but most stay within one (albeit flexible) screen image—even if they are capable of more. Where Meryl Streep is concerned, all bets are off. This is one phenomenally versatile actress.
Writers have all kinds of techniques for dealing with their characters. A classic one is to write up their background in great detail and get to know them that way. It works for many.
Where I am concerned, my mind tends—after a short period of time—to think of my characters as real people. In that context, I tend to think about my characters a great deal and often wonder what they would do in a given situation—and frequently an ordinary one at that.
Do this day after day, month after month, and your characters—as far as your mind is concerned—become as familiar as close friends.
Start worrying when you can’t tell the difference.