Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

The Rule of 3, Plus More Character Development Tricks for Your Screenplay

Among all the guides for developing characters in your screenplay, I had never heard of these two tricks from screenwriter Bryan Young. Bryan is an award-winning storyteller, with films, podcasts, books, and posts on  StarWars.com, Scyfy.com, HowStuffWorks.com, and more. He’s done a lot of reading and writing in his day, so he’s figured out what works for him when it comes to his storytelling formula. Try his character development tricks on for size to see how they work for you!

1. The Rule of 3

The Rule of Three exists in many places, not just storytelling. In general, the Rule suggests that using three elements – whether that be characters or events – is easier for the audience to understand and remember. In its simplicity, it makes the idea more catchy and gives rhythm to your story. It also signals what the viewer should be looking out for in your character’s arc.

“The thing about character development that’s important is to give us moments to show where they’re starting, and how they’re learning, and then how they’re growing. And it only takes three scenes to do that,” Bryan began.  “Say they’re afraid of dogs. In the first scene, you have to show that they’re afraid of dogs. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, you have to show that they’re not necessarily, like, they’re trying to get over that, but they’re not sure. And then, in the climax, they have to confront the dog. You’ve got a very clear line of character development there because you’ve seen it over the course of the story. That Rule of Three is really your friend when helping with character development.”

2. Write Characters for Dead Actors

“So, when I was just starting out as a screenwriter, my trick for developing characters was to write characters for dead actors, so all of my really early screenplays were written basically for Cary Grant,” Bryan revealed. “And then I would go through, and in my revisions, I would rewrite them for contemporary actors. The first draft would be Cary Grant, and then the second draft would be like Matt Damon. And how that changes the character, it kind of gave me a cheating jumpstart to that.”

So, when I was just starting out as a screenwriter, my trick for developing characters was to write characters for dead actors, so all of my really early screenplays were written basically for Cary Grant. And then I would go through, and in my revisions, I would rewrite them for contemporary actors.
Bryan Young
Screenwriter & Journalist

I’ve heard of screenwriters who write with particular actors in mind, even going so far as to describe the character as such in their screenplay (“He was a Joe Pesci-type”). But doing this other way is a game-changer! Write with an actor in mind who has passed away, so you’re not thinking to yourself, “will this actor even want to be in this movie?” or some other destructive or hindering thought. Then, when you’re rewriting, change the character you have in mind to a living actor. How does your character need to evolve to fit the new actor?  Does it add another dimension to the character and improve your story?

“That’s my method of doing it, or those are my two methods of doing it, but I think that either, or, or both can help you a lot in your journey as a screenwriter,” Bryan concluded.

Switch it up,

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