As your screenplay progresses from a simple idea to a fully breathing and alive creature that’s slowly taking over your computer, you’ve likely asked yourself a very simple question, “I wonder what my character looks like?” While you’ve likely had an abstract idea of the physical appearance of your character, I’ve found that an essential element in connecting with your character is locating a real, physical version of the character.
Adopting a physical version of your character, whether a friend or a famous personality, connects this character from your imagination into the real world. Human counterparts for fictional characters breaks down creative barriers and strengthens the voice of each character.
Locating the “Real” Character
During my initial stages of writing a screenplay I spend a good chunk of my time thinking about the physical characteristics of every character I’m currently writing or dissecting. It’s important for my writing process to have a real version of each character so as I imagine an upcoming scene or dialogue I can visualize my character as an actual person and not a figment of my imagination.
The first step in locating a physical version of your character(s) is to review your basic character biography and outline. Are there clues about their physical appearance? If not, gather all relevant documents and utilize context clues to help shape the basic appearance of the character.
Upon creating a rough physical outline complete with basic characteristics, start searching through photographs of similar individuals. Adopt the photograph of a real person only if they match what you feel the character would look like; however, remain open to alteration to your initial physical description.
Selecting “Real” Character from Personality
On the rare occasion, I’ve selected the physical appearance of my character based upon the personality I felt she had during the initial portion of the first draft. While I wasn’t able to truly connect with her at this point, I knew who she looked like simply by the personality she was developing within my story.
After making a mad dash to search the actress I had in mind, my mind was reeling after reviewing her images. This actress, who I’ve seen in only one show, was my character. I found from that moment the depth of this particular character and precision in terms of dialogue and action sequences dramatically altered from decent to believable.
While finding the physical embodiment of your character(s) doesn’t promise success in writing, it does provide you with one extra level of development to help push your story to the next level.