Tips to Create Realistic Characters While Writing

No matter how many ideas you have or how many screenplays you can write. At some point, it comes down to the characters within your script. While writing I have observed many times that we tend to focus on one aspect only. If we are thinking about the structure of our film, we forget the minor details. Or may be, we only focus on our main character (protagonist) and his/her goals (outer goals mainly) that drive the narrative. As a result, most of the times our characters become quite passive and stereotypical. You feel “Why is this character even there?” i.e they just don’t take off. So, how can we create some realistic and believable characters?

While writing my films, I faced this problem many times. My characters had some unique traits and their share of strengths and weaknesses but at some point, they faced road-blocks in their respective journeys. So I decided to divide my characters into three different zones:

  1. Actions
  2. Emotions
  3. Personality

Let us first discuss ACTIONS, the first important zone:

There are four different types of character actions in screenplays. We have to work on each of them separately. They are as follows:

  1. Physical Action– The movement of characters, gestures, walking patterns, etc.
  2. Verbal Action– Essentially the dialogues.
  3. Emotional Action– The action that shows some emotion. For eg, a slap, a kiss, throwing a chair, etc.
  4. Psychological Action– This action mostly plays inside a character’s mind and is really important. It could include a dreamy state, feelings, etc which can be translated into an external action. For eg, Sriram Raghavan used this action while writing the character of Vikram (aka Johnny) in Johnny Gaddar. In most of his initial scenes as Vikram, he is shown quite impulsive. In a scene from “Johnny Gaddar”, Vikram confesses that he killed Shiva (another character) accidently and breaks down in front of Sheshadri (played by Dharmendra). But in an impulsive outburst, he picks up Sheshadri’s loaded gun kept right in front of him and fires 3-4 shots at him. As an audience, we didn’t see that coming as there was no prior physical, verbal or emotional action or cue given to the audience. This scene is an important scene in the film as it drives the narrative forward and there is a sudden growth of Vikram’s character that would lead to even bigger consequences.
Vikram kills Sheshadri in Johnny Gaddaar (2007)

The second important zone is EMOTIONS:

Every character’s emotional action gives rise to an emotional reaction. We need to capitalize on this zone (as a writer) as early as possible because the more we know the emotional zone of our character, the better it would be to write his reactions when conflict arises or when there is a sudden need. As a writer, you also need to find out the character’s behavioral pattern whenever he feels love, hate, jealousy, betrayal, frustration, etc or when he feels zoned-out or feels absolutely nothing.

As I mentioned above, an emotional action shows some emotion. For eg, a slap, a kiss, throwing a chair, etc. We, as a writer, need to find these traits or actions that trigger an emotional response from a character.

The third important zone is PERSONALITY:

It envelopes a character’s hidden attributes such as his point of views, his beliefs, his needs, his inner voice, his ideas, his attitude in life, etc. This zone could help you to find the overall objective of a character and may be how he is going to achieve that objective. Writing clearly about a character’s personality zone, would also help you in finding an appropriate solution whenever the conflict (both inner and outer ) arises. 

For eg, in the film ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’, we see Mr. Khosla as a man with principles. He knows only the legal way of retrieving his land from Khurana. But his reluctance to be a part of his son’s plan to get back his land leads to some conflicting situations that otherwise would not have been possible if he would have agreed instantly. So, in a way his attitude and belief in life helped the writer to create conflicting situations in the screenplay. Otherwise, the overall structure of the screenplay would fall flat.

Mr. Khosla’s personality helps the writer to create conflicting situations in Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006)


So guys, next time when you are planning to create a realistic character, try to work on the above mentioned points and make sure to inculcate them in your characters so that we get a layered and structured screenplay.

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