Tag Archives: writing

How to Write Compelling Characters

how to write compelling characters

So, you have an idea for a screenplay with a great plot, now what? Don’t forget the importance of writing well-rounded characters. Audiences need characters to hate, love, cherish, and tell the story fully. Without fully thought out characters, a movie or TV show can seem dull. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks on how to develop characters for TV and film. Here are some tips on how to write compelling characters for the screen.


Carl Jung created Twelve Archetypes of  Humanity and analyzed how people generally behave with these twelve types. This can be a great jumping off point if you are unsure how your characters move around in the world and carry themselves based on history, culture, and assimilation to their environments. The twelve Archetypes include; The Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage. You see many of these archetypes in movies and tv shows already. For example, the Lover can be seen in many romantic tragedies and comedies such as West Side Story and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Check out this video for more information on Archetypes.


Ask yourself questions about the character such as; What is the character’s main goal? What is their secondary goal(s)? How do they interact with the other characters? Where do they live? What do they do in their spare time? The more analysis you do and the more questions you ask yourself about the characters, the more they will come to life. 

Create a Great Introduction

Remember, you only get to introduce your character in a film or TV show for the first time, once. Make sure it is memorable and encapsulates key factors about your character that you need the audience to know and retain. If your character is a villain, is there something that could suggest that in the first encounter? If they are supposed to be hilarious, do they crack a joke right away? Think about the first moment and how the character appears to the other characters as well as the audience. 

Consider Classes 

Finally, consider furthering your education to help with writing these characters and their complex backgrounds. Having a space to explore your writing skills under the guidance of professionals is one of the best ways to learn. For example, Digital Film Academy offers screenwriting and film history classes as a part of the curriculum to better your film writing skills. 

If you are interested in learning more about Digital Film Academy join us for our next free online Open House on July 7th at 6pm EST.

This is a free virtual open house where we will be hosting a demonstration film class and going over more information about the programs we offer.

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Three Tips for Writing Great Characters



A great character makes or breaks a film. It’s also what will get a major star to agree to sign on to a project.

Having written a great character is money in the bank, so here are three helpful tips to help make yours the best they can be!


Too real can be too boring, mate.


  1. Don’t make them too much like real people.

People tend to think super-realistic writing equals good writing, but there’s a difference between a film that “feels” real because it hits you emotionally and a film that feels real because it could be a home movie of two people having a boring talk.

One thing about real people and real life: they use a lot of filler. What percentage of your life actually has something HAPPENING? Are your friends riveted if you tell them you: Got in your car, turned it on, went down the street, made a left, went to the grocery store, and got eggs? No? Ok… then why should a screenplay give this much detail?

Additionally, “real” people tend not to talk in a super-exciting way. They make a lot of chit-chat and often dance around their real point. In a cinematic world, you want people who are clear about their wants and put it out there. This drives the drama.

To that end:

Based just on his lines, what are Austin’s core traits?


  1. Limit their traits – and make every line stem from a trait.

In real life, people have tons and tons of traits. You could sit down and list your traits – and easily fill a page. The more traits someone has, the more complicated they are.

While you do want your characters to be complicated, too many traits will dilute them to the point that they come across as vague. Yes, this might make them more ‘realistic’ – but it will also make them boring or confusing… or both.

Good characters should have no more than four core traits, and every action they take and word that comes out of their mouths should reflect on one or more of these traits. This delivers characters who are clear and memorable. Four core traits – and one clear thing that they want. That’s it.

Think the most important thing to describe about her is that she’s blonde?


  1. Make your descriptions count.

When a character’s first introduced, the introduction should be short and to the point, so as not to slow down the reading. However, just because it’s short doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pack a punch. Make those descriptive words count!

Also – avoid describing anything physical that doesn’t give a trait. A huge complaint in the industry is that female characters tend to just be described as “beautiful,” or described in an overly specific way, like “LENA, 20s, short black hair and big green eyes.” This tells nothing about the character and limits the number of actresses who fit the description. Also, unless it’s important that the character be ugly for some reason, don’t worry – a beautiful woman will likely be cast anyway!

Instead, use physical traits that DO tell you something about the person. For example: “PENELOPE, 18, hair out of place and too much in her backpack, stumbles down the hall.” What do you know right away about Penelope? She’s awkward, a bookworm, doesn’t care too much about her looks… You get a lot more than you would from “PENELOPE, 18, brown hair and blue eyes. Beautiful.”

Those are the top three tips for writing great characters. Let us know if you have any others in the comments!


Blog by: Sara McDermott Jain

Q&A: DFA Student Steven Young!

Born in Harlem, New York, Steven Young grew up listening to the likes of The Beatles, James Brown, and Michael Jackson. At age 9, he came across the parody video “I’m Fat” by Weird Al Yankovic and saw something that combined his love for music and entertainment.

After shooting two music videos independently, Steven decided to crossover into writing and creating short films, which led him to attend the Digital Film Academy.

DFA: What attracted you to the Digital Film Academy?

SY: The opportunities that DFA presented.

DFA: What opportunities presented themselves to you?

SY: For one, I knew going in that what I learned would not only teach me how to use the equipment but how to excel in my field. Secondly, I knew what I was learning would apply to my everyday work.

DFA: What program did you take at the Digital Film Academy?

SY: One-Year Advanced.

DFA: What class did you like the most and why?

SY: I would say my favorite class here was the directing class, which was taught by Patrick DiRenna. It was one of my favorites because it gave me insight on how to direct an actor and how to make the audience feel how I want them to feel.

DFA: What are you currently working on?

SY: I am currently working on my thesis short film Double Dealing, which is in the post-production stages.

On the set of the feature film Uncommitted.
On the set of the feature film Uncommitted.

DFA: What is Double Dealing about?

SY: It’s about how my character Collin returns to New York after being gone for several years to visit a college friend who has been attacked by an unknown attacker.

DFA: Will you tell us why he’s being attacked?

SY: See the film!

DFA: When your thesis is completed, will you be submitting it to film festivals?

SY: Indeed.

DFA: What is your area of expertise?

SY: Audio Engineering, but I also enjoy writing and directing.

DFA: What is your favorite piece of equipment to use and why?

SY: My favorite piece of equipment is the R88 which allows me to record sound for eight different channels and do a pre-mix before heading into post. Touch Screen is always awesome.

Steven Young playing with audio.
Steven Young doing live audio recording for the Stevie Boi fashion week fashion show.

DFA: Who is your favorite director?

SY: You know, I would have to say Scorsese.

DFA: Give me your top three movies of all time?

SY: Goodfellas, Good Will Hunting, and The Departed.

DFA: Did any of these films influence your short film, Double Dealing?

SY: Maybe The Departed, but not really.

DFA: What is your favorite genre to watch? And is it different from the genre that you shoot?

SY: I would have to say I’m into the more sci-fi action type of films even though I mainly write suspense dramas.

DFA: What are your future plans?

SY: In the future I would like to do more writing and directing as well as start my own production company.

DFA: Any piece of advice for young, aspiring filmmakers?

SY: My advice is to have fun and believe in creative freedom.

By Digital Film Academy Student Blogger Harley Page.

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