By Charles Harris
So far, we've developed an idea as far as first draft and in the last article we began to revise it - looking at structure. Now is the time to go back and look more thoroughly at character.
The character redraft is a crucial one. Of course, you've been learning about your characters all along - finding out what makes them interesting, credible and engaging.
However, in the first draft it was important to let the imagination flow, without too much constraint. As a result, there will be areas that now need to be strengthened and straightened out.
The character edit
Start with your protagonist.
Read through the script focusing only on her.
At this point in the process, she will almost certainly be too passive, reacting to events rather than pushing the story forwards herself. So the most urgent task will be to ensure she's as active as possible.
If someone opens a door for her, make her open the door herself. Or, at least, insist that it's opened. If someone discovers a crucial clue, see if she can't discover it instead.
This is her story. She must drive it forwards.
Dealing with her flaws
Next, is she growing and learning? Focus on her flaws and ensure that she grapples with them. Unless your story is a noir, a satire or an adventure story, the power of your script will depend on her personal character growth, scene by scene.
Of course, this shouldn't be linear: we all have set backs from time to time. And it shouldn't be clichéd. Whatever the genre, you want your characters to be original and full of surprise.
Complex and contradictory
The third step is to look at how rounded her character can be. When first sketching out the story, your protagonist will probably be fairly simply developed. Perhaps a little two-dimensional. Now is the time to add some more complexity.
In addition to her flaws, she should have strengths. Otherwise, why should we care about her? What is she good at? What positive traits could she show?
Then there's the way she likes to present herself to the world. Her fears are also important. What is she most afraid of in life? And her darker side: what less admirable things would she be capable of doing, if pushed to the limit?
Good characters have a range of traits, some of them contradictory. This adds to the credibility of the story, and also gives her the capacity to surprise us and keep us watching.
Using subplots to develop character
Some of her traits won't necessarily be visible when she's engaged in the main story, but may only come out when confronted by different characters, perhaps in subplots.
A detective, for example, may not be able to show her more human side at work, but only when trying to help her small son cope with moving to a new school.
The other roles
Once I've thoroughly revised the protagonist, I do the same with all the other characters in the story, large and small.
Antagonists are particularly crucial - and easily ruined by making them too flat and predictable. Antagonists must have their own strengths and contradictions - such as intelligence, sense of humour, human feelings, etc.
Indeed the strongest antagonists (such as Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates) may be highly personable and engaging in their own right.
Cutting and combining
Review the entire story from the point of view of each character in turn, even the smallest, to give myself a chance to bring each to life.
In the process, you'll probably find some characters are not needed - perhaps two characters are effectively duplicating each other. Others may disappear too early or arrive too late.
Sometimes two half-achieved characters can be usefully combined into one, which is always interesting as the new character will have a greater complexity than the original two.
Of course, subsidiary and bit-part characters won't have the same range as the main characters, but they too need freshness, contradictions and the truth that comes from observation of real life.
Once you've completed this third (Character) draft, which is in reality many little mini-drafts, you're ready for the next stage - to tighten and speed up the narrative flow - scene by scene.
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Charles Harris new book Jaws in Space: Powerful Pitching for Film and TV was published last month by Creative Essentials and is already recommended reading on MA courses. You can buy it here and get the e-book version included for free.
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