Creating interesting, complex and realistic characters is the Everest Summit for all screenwriters; yet, reaching this destination proves more difficult than most anticipate. I’ve found throughout my experience dealing with new and seasoned screenwriters, one of the biggest obstacles encountered is their refusal of developing off-script histories. This technique gains writers a personal familiarity with each character, which aids in dialogue creation as well as physical and emotional development.
Creating documents outlining what a character does when alone provides a voyeuristic vantage point designed to navigate writing toward intense character realism. Ultimately, screenwriters must regard their characters are real, living humans. Discovering the daily habits, quirks and secret activities shapes their baseline personality.
This technique is perhaps my favorite in terms of screenwriting character development. Uncovering the secret activities of a character reveals who they truly are – their baseline. Writing characters only based on what we see in the realm of the script produces boring, flat and predictable characters. Yet, drudging through your creative imagination to see how each character behaves when no one is looking truly affects character quality.
I find this technique to be voyeuristic in nature as you’re acting like a fly on the wall; except, you have a computer. When creating these documents, don’t utilize them as a way of writing dialogue or action sequences. These documents are your diaries. It’s your observations of this fictional character.
What to Include
This is the biggest question screenwriters have regarding this technique. The answer: whatever you want, within reason. The information included in these “voyeurism diaries” should strive to reveal physical traits while alone, activities and personality quirks. Don’t write from their point of view; rather, write what they’re doing as if you were actually a fly resting on a lamp.
Be as creative and imaginative as possible. Create new personality traits and see where they go. Some effective start-up questions include:
How different is this character in private than in public?
Do they talk to themselves? Do they listen to music when alone?
What are their personal hygiene habits?
Do they throw their socks in a hamper on on the floor?
The aforementioned questions are an excellent way to kickstart this screenwriting character development technique. Allow your brain to explore avenues and paths that were previously unknown to yourself and the character.