Throughout my years of dealing with scripts and reading beginner screenplays, I’ve noticed a trend among most new writers (and even some more-established players). The trend of creating perfect characters with perfect problems (to go along with their perfect teeth) is saturating the desks of literary agents and production companies. While it may seem pleasant to have a character who emits perfection, the industry seeks screenplays with realism and imperfections within their characters.
Characters who are too perfect are not only boring but provide very little originality and depth to your story. While we must strive for perfection in our writing, characters must be perfect in their flaws.
Unless you’re a sociopath with narcissistic tendencies, you are well aware of your own imperfections. While some of these “flaws” may be detrimental to our confidence and ability to stay on track with what’s important, most of our imperfections are exactly what make us unique, interesting and above all else, human.
Regardless of the time period or even planet your character inhabits, you must shave away their perfection. In the scope of screenwriting, what is perfection?
In the most basic definition, character perfection are characters who always know exactly what to say, who follow a specific social dialogue formula and whose problems are even perfect. These characters typically feature very little subtext and their motivation/desires/wants play to the surface level at best.
Character imperfections are personality traits, dialogue exchanges or encounters that do not follow a standard formula many writers feel is best. They do not always greet each other with the standard, “Hello. How are you?” They are not afraid of utilizing personality flaws, such as lying, in order to accomplish their goals. They are selfish. They are human.
When reading your script, or even while creating the action and dialogue sequences, avoid using character traits that are too perfect. Allow your character the opportunity to mess up. Provide each character with personality traits that are annoying, unattractive or even dangerous. Avoid utilizing choices that the audience has seen in many other characters. Even if your character is the “hero” of the story, he should not be portrayed in a glorious light throughout the entire script.
Find ways to incorporate certain levels of realism into your character by allowing him to disappoint the audience as well as his fellow characters. If our best friends and family members can hurt our feelings or make us feel uncomfortable, then your character must follow the same natural social interaction for ultimate realism.