Regular AFF panelist Christina Hodson’s Birds of Prey hits theaters on Friday, following supervillain-turned-protagonist Harley Quinn, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for this complicated character.
So, what goes into creating a truly complex character and how can you get your audience to root for or sympathize with a less-than-perfect lead? Our Writers Conference plays host to many of the industry’s leading writers and creators and we’re turning to them for some advice on developing flawed, relatable characters for the screen.
Here are five tips for crafting complicated characters from the writers behind some of our favorite onscreen antiheroes:
1.HUMANIZE YOUR VILLAINS
I think the villain generally in any script should be the hero of his own story and should have his own psychology that’s very rich, where he is the Norman Bates to some extent of his own world.
-Christina Hodson at AFF 2016 (writer Transformers: Bumblebee, Birds of Prey)
2.ESTABLISH THE JOURNEY AHEAD
Go back to the beginning, think about the story you want to tell, think about the person who’s most interesting to you, and figure it out from there. Who is your hero, what’s his problem or her problem, what’s in her way, and how do you conquer the problem?
-Robert Kamen at AFF 2015 (writer Angel Has Fallen, The Fifth Element, Taken, The Karate Kid)
3.FIND THE MOTIVATION FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR
You have to be able to get a real overview of life and what people are doing, what their behavior is—and our behavior is usually covering our pain. Then you can begin to explore the interaction between the characters, and then you can make it funny. But I don’t believe you can do one without the other.
-Garry Shandling at AFF 2004 (writer/creator/star The Larry Sanders Show, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show; writer Sandford and Son)
4.GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS CONVICTION
I think of people making choices, and I think of people really believing what they’re saying. I think it’s very possible for every character to be telling the truth at every single moment, and for those things to be completely contradictory.
-Jenny Lumet at AFF 2012 (writer Rachel Getting Married)
5.MAKE THE AUDIENCE INTERESTED IN THEIR STORY
What is it about them that makes us identify with them or afraid of them or laugh at them or laugh with them or whatever it is that makes you want to spend time with them? And usually the biggest thing is—what’s the obstacle? Why can’t that main character get what he or she wants?
-Graham Yost at AFF 2018 (writer Justified, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, Boomtown, Speed)
Visit onstory.tv for a closer look inside the creative process from today’s leading writers and filmmakers and catch Hodson’s Birds of Prey in theaters this Friday 2/7!
Have a story you’re interested in submitting? Submit to our competitions before our Early Bird Deadline on March 27, 2020 to enter your work before prices increase! All entrants will receive free reader comments and Badge discounts to the 2020 Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference. For more info or to submit your story, click here.