The Three Qualities of an Engaging Character

The Three Qualities of an Engaging Character


If you analyze screenplays and films you are bound to find commonalities that exist among the ones that are successful and the ones that aren’t. A consistent commonality I see time and time again is that of character. In particular, three ubiquitous yet distinguishing features that all compelling characters seem to share in successful screenplays and films.

What makes these three characteristics so significant is their respective psychological effects that they have on an audience, as well as their functional effects on story. In short, all three characteristics contain a universal principle that resonates with us as individual characters ourselves. Let’s touch on each one of them…

1. Distinction

Distinction is the idea of difference. It’s what makes your character different and unique to the audience. People by nature are organically drawn to anything that is new or different — sights, sounds, experiences, etc. We’re actually predisposed to the concept of distinction without being conscious of it.

This psychology also plays out with respects to the characters in our screenplays. Distinction within a character is what piques our interest and causes us to want to know more about the person. It’s the unconscious prompt that draws us in to their world. And it can come in many different forms. It can be a specific personality, a contradiction, a talent, an aspiration, an idiosyncrasy, a job, a character flaw, or an amalgam of several things.

Ryan Gosling’s character in the film Drive is a terrific example of this at play.

1a

He’s a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. That flaw is what made him totally distinctive to us as an audience. It’s what draws us to him right from the get-go. It’s what generates the requisite intrigue that aroused our interest in him as a unique individual.

Or take Steve Carell’s character Andy in the film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

2

His distinction lies in the title itself. A normal, kindhearted man who hasn’t had a sexual encounter. Not for some specific personal or religious reason, but because he just gave up trying. It compels us to want to know more about him as a character.

Or think about Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny in the Academy Award-winning film, Unforgiven.

3a

He’s a former outlaw and killer who has been transformed by marriage. Being a repentant murderer trying to do right by his children by collecting a bounty, coupled with his violent past, is an aspiration and backstory that coalesced into a truly distinctive character. One that coaxed us into the story and caused us to want to know more about him.

Read the full article on Screencraft.org

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