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Why Character Development is Important

Believe it or not, almost every film has character development. But why is it so important? Audiences want to watch a film where they can easily relate to the protagonist on screen and root for them early on prior to the inciting incident.

For example, in Mean Girls, we're introduced to a protagonist who is in her fish out of water story early on. Prior to the inciting incident, we get a sense that she doesn't fit in since she's spent most of her childhood being home schooled by her parents. Her main journey is about finding out where she truly belongs. At first she hangs out with the wrong crowd, but in the end, she discovers that her true friends with her all along, and steps down from being a "plastic".

The minor difference compared to other films is, the antagonist also develops, so everyone gets their happy ending and the audience feels satisfied.

When you're creating your protagonist, they need to have internal and external development.

Internal:

  • What are their goals?
  • What's their driving force?
  • What happens if they fail?

Every protagonist needs to have a goal and what drives them to get what they want. In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods' goal is to get a law degree. Her driving force is that she wants to show her ex that she's smart and capable, and if she fails, she'll never have self-worth, and a woman will wrongly be in jail.

External:

  • How has this affected them physically?
  • Do they bear any scars?
  • How will this change them?

Keep in mind, you don't have to answer all of these questions within the first ten minutes of your film. Character development should be steadily paced throughout the film so once we get a sense of their internal struggle, then we can spend the rest of the film seeing the challenges they have to face as they slowly start to develop.

The audience wants a character they can relate to. I've previously mentioned in a blog about how important the Ordinary World is, and just to provide a quick summary, it's where we learn about the protagonists strengths, weakness, positive traits, and negative traits.

As a reader, I want to root for the protagonist prior to the inciting incident, but I can't do that without understanding their struggle and knowing what they want to achieve and why they want it so bad. There's so many elements that go into writing a relatable character, but know that you can't convince every single person to take a look at your protagonist and say, "Yeah I feel their pain."

The Good Place for example has many characters to which the audience can relate to. As a viewer, I couldn't help but find myself relating to the four main lead characters throughout the show. At some points I felt I was like a Chidi and other points, I could see myself relating more to Elenore or Tahani.

Your overall goal as a writer is not only to have your protagonist develop, but to make them likeable. If you have an unlikable character, then the audience is going to quickly lose interest in your film.

If you don't have character development, there is no plot and we don't have a reason to cheer for your protagonist. Imagine what Back to the Future would be like if Marty didn't travel back in time and his father was still a geeky loser. In fact, I don't think the title of the film would be called "Back to the Future" if he didn't travel back in time and help his father develop.

You've probably noticed not every character develops in films, such as James Bond for example, and that's okay. The minor difference is that he still reaches his goal and there have been various actors who have portrayed the role of 007, it's like each Bond has a different personality or take on the character.

If you've found this helpful or have any questions, feel free to let me know! I'm more than happy to help you out!