Stop Manipulating Your Characters

Everything will fall into place in your story once you allow the characters to be who they are, and not what you want them to be.

As a writer, you’re a passenger on your character’s respective journeys, the creator who has to put all the pieces of the puzzle together naturally, instinctively, without too much interference and unnecessary meddling.

Once you set your characters free, and allow them to reclaim their authentic selves, your true nature (and function) as a storyteller will gracefully emerge and you’ll fulfill the task of great writers, craft your story to the best of your artistic abilities, without conceit or misinterpretations.

Your primary function as a wordsmith is to craft the story, not dictate the lives of those who graciously inhabit your story.

Character Development is the writer’s work in the literal creation of the written character; including (but not limited to) investigation into a character’s back story, intimate understanding of a character’s personality, the character’s psychology, and the character’s wants and needs.

Essentially, character development describes the writer’s relationship with the character and the process of making the character believable and compelling.

This process begins with the writer’s impetus, or idea for a story and the characters who should populate it, and ends with the finished product–the screenplay itself, containing a fully developed, entirely believable, and unavoidably interesting character the audience relates to and wants to watch.

Character development requires hours of research, careful consideration, and attention to detail before the character is compelling and believable.

How Do You Stop Controlling Your Characters?

Define who they are and what function they serve

The first step in bringing your characters to life is to explore who they are and what makes them tick.

All memorable and successful stories have one thing in common. Not genre. Not budgets. Not even a good story. They all have memorable characters that have become part of our culture. In film, or in any fiction/non-fiction, the best stories are told within the context of human relationships; it is not so much what happens on the screen that affects us, but what happens to whom.

Before you put word to paper, you must know the character. Character is the essential foundation of the screenplay. It is the heart, soul, and nervous system of your story.

It is through character that audiences and readers experience emotions and are touched deeply.

All characters have their own, unique point of view, that allows us to discover your story through their respective eyes and see the world in all its diversity.

The point of view allows the character to Act – always be active and act, React – always react to whatever is happening in the story, and Interact – always respond to what is happening in the story and interact with other characters. Action triggers emotion, and emotion pushes the story forward.

In identifying the characters in your story, it’s essential to define your Protagonist (s), Antagonist (s) and Villain (s), and Supporting & Function Characters.

In The Write Journey you’ll explore elements that make a strong protagonist, the forces that create the greatest conflict in your story, characters who strongly oppose your protagonist, the antagonist, and antagonistic forces, and take a look at the supporting and functional characters.

To understand the substance of the story and how it performs, you need to view your work from the inside out, from the centre of your character, looking out at the world through your character’s eyes, experiencing the story as if you were the living character yourself. To slip into his subjective and highly imagined point of view, you need to look closely at this creature you intend to inhabit, a character. Robert McKee, Story


Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Preparation and research are essential to develop your characters. By doing research and exploring what you are writing about, you acquire information. It takes time, effort, and tons of patience to acquire knowledge and get up close and personal with your characters.

In The Write Journey you’ll explore material relevant to your characters and discover surprising information that will unlock story possibilities, and look at how to make the most of your characters.

Research is important. The key to all research is patience and persistence and keeping an open mind so your expectations about what you would like to find. Don’t distort the information you find. You must be a sponge, absorbing everything. Whether it be a screenplay, a bar of soap, a new car, the American Dream, or the notion of romance, everything we do is designed to sell, to convince someone that what we are offering them will make them feel good, help them make a lot of money, or lead to fame and fortune. James Brooks

Build your characters

In order to fully understand who you are writing about, and make the most of the characters in your story, it is important to ensure that you really know who you are writing about and crawl under the skin of your characters. Create 3-dimensional characters with whom audiences /viewers/readers (and the writer) can empathise and fall hopelessly in love.

Creating a character is the same as when you meet a new acquaintance, it takes years before you become friends and have built up trust between the two of you before your friend becomes your best buddy and starts confessing intimate secrets.

The Write Journey explores 22 elements that define characters, the great 19th Century American novelist Henry James’ theory of illumination, and Joseph Chilton Pierce’s ‘Circle of Being’,

Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty: he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Create Visual Dynamics / Visual Narrative

Through The Write Journey you’ll see that you have an incredibly colourful pallete you can use to visually reveal your character’s emotions, motivation, conflict, desire, and obstacles.

Here‘s how J.R.R Tolkien’s used Visual Dynamics in his novel The Hobbit:

Now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening when he smashed the door and flew off in rage, two days before. The men of the lake-town Esgaroth were mostly indoors, for the breeze from the black East and chill, but a few were walking on the quays, and watching, as they were fond of doing, the stars shine out from the smooth patches of the lake as they opened in the sky.

Write their biography

Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me. Anton Chekhov

One of the most important aspects of writing characters is to understand the difference between characterisation and true character. Once you’ve defined and explored the characters that will live in your story, it’s important to write a solid biography. The Write Journey looks at how to start a character bible, how to reveal true character, and how to position characters in your story.

Test your characters’ authenticity with action and dialogue

At the conclusion of The Write Journey you will write the first 10 pages of your story for evaluation, where your mentor will explore the authenticity of your characters.

Artwork Quotes courtesy of Quotefancy