After writing The Lost Soul in a month because of tight deadlines I've been thinking a lot about characters and how much better they are if you spend time developing them.
I didn't have as much time to develop the characters for The Lost Soul as I would have liked, I only had time to get a general feel for them. Some of the characters were already partially fleshed out because of previous work done by the director and producer, but the vast majority of the work had to been done as I went along and I have to admit the characters aren't as good as they could be. I wish could have had more time to spend on them.
So over the last two weeks I've allowed myself a little refresher on character by reading Writing The Character Centered Screenplay by Andrew Horton. It is a very comprehensive book covering all aspects of character, very informative and enjoyable and one I would heartily recommend to every writer out there. In the back there is a Character Check List which writers are encouraged to use, to fill in details about their characters' backgrounds, looks, mannerisms and numerous other bits and bobs helping the writer to better know the characters in their screenplay. I used to use this handy tool as a guide to see if my characters worked and to discover how best to improve them. I don't use it now and I couldn't even tell you when I stopped using it, or why, but I know for sure I will be using it again from now on.
The biggest single reason for the majority of screenplays I've read failing is character. Too many times have I seen cliche, stereotypes and one dimensional characters. If you want your screenplay to stand out from the crowd it's your characters that are going to help you do that. It doesn't matter how good your ideas are if your characters aren't up to scratch then your screenplay has already failed.
So how can you ensure your characters are three dimensional and stand out? That's easy - work at them. Don't start writing that first draft until you know everything about your characters; you won't the majority of that information, but you need to know it to know your character. Try writing out three pages about each of your main characters, a paragraph for your minor ones, covering their likes, dislikes, motivations, how they talk, how they move, things that happened to them in the past they could affect how they react to certain situations. Remember even the most likable characters have their own selfish desires and needs and it's from those desires and needs that conflict comes from. Or you could simply fill out Andrew Norton's Character Check List, as it has all the questions you should be asking yourself about your character.
I've typed Andrew Norton's Character Check List into a Final Draft 8 document, so if anyone wants it to use as a template then please email me and I'll email you back a copy.