Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Scott McConnell

How to Create Characters Who Are Believable Individuals

“All your characters sound the same!”

 Ever had that note from a producer, exec, writer, or script consultant?

 Yikes if you have!

It’s damning. And it hurts. It means your script is not yet pro or produceable.

But this is not the time to feel stupid or to cry. Truth is truth. See this damning script note as good news. You have learned what is holding back your story and storytelling. The question now is: How can this problem be fixed?

Create Characters Who Are Believable Individuals

When a client hires me to assess/improve their script and I find that it has cliched characters who all sound the same, first I empathize. All creatives at some time have written flat dialog that lacks individuality. Functional plot puppet speak. Explicit, toneless, and monotonous tongue wagging. One layered words that just get the exposition across and fill the unforgiving white void.

Next, I tell my client: It’s not a dialog problem.

It’s really a character problem.

Real individuals speak with their own particular phrasing, attitudes, expressions, and voice. Think Hans Gruber and

John McClane. Think Rick Blaine versus Louis Renault.

So, listen up.

The solution to your characters sounding the same is simple. In principle.

Go back to your foundations and recreate your characters.

If your characters don’t speak like “real” three-dimensional people, it’s because they aren’t. They are not layered, multifaceted individuals who have distinct beliefs, traits, and desires. And do they, like most people, have contradictions and self-conflicts?

Now you can get excited.

There are principled and practical ways to make your characters “real” and particular. Creating layered compelling characters, like all elements in a story, can be learned. Writing muscles are created. Thought by thought. Practice by practice.

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Scott McConnell, the story guy, is a former Los Angeles producer/showrunner who is now a script consultant and story developer. He is also the editor of The Story Guy Newsletter, a bi-weekly publication of practical writing advice for scriptwriters. Subscribe here.