Character bios and the best ways to expand them

Character bios are used before the actual script is written and read. They are small sketches of your characters that explain what kind of world and story you are presenting to the readers (so producers and investors). This information does not necessarily appear in a film since sometimes a character is met by the viewers gradually in a film. However, character bios are a must-have for any script presentation or pitch. With the experience of Gary Collins from Red Rock Entertainment Ltd., you will learn about the elements of a character’s bio that sells a script and turns it into a film.

Choose a stereotype and add an archetype to it

Archetypes are believed to be the ancient universally known symbols existing in every culture regardless of geography. Character’s archetype in a film or a book is the basis of every story. Arcs help determine who the character is, even before you get their personal information on the table. Archetype is the foundation of a person’s behaviour, choices, goals, and life in general; hence it is a foundation of every film character bio.

It is, however, of utmost importance not to mix up two things: archetypes and stereotypes. Even though every human being has the same set of physical characteristics and organs, each and everyone has a unique set of mind, habits, preferences, emotions, etc. So while a stereotype says the most generalised information (s/he is a teacher), an archetype adds meaning to it (s/he is a teacher and a hero). Consider this example for the films The Ron Clark Story or Mona Lisa Smile.

There are dozens of archetypes that a screenwriter can choose for characters. You might not know whether you are creating a hero, a black knight, a girl next door, an observer, or an outlaw; but it is better to define the characters from the very beginning. Check these possible options to develop a truthful and yet original character.

Describe the background

Background of any character consists of the family definition and the current general personal information. Family defines who we are in general, so by letting the readers know about a character’s family, you will instantly describe and explain a wide range of their life experiences. For example, in the Game of Thrones, everyone knows that “A Lannister always pays his debts” so it explains why Tyrion killed his father who had always been ridiculing and belittle his son.

The personal information mostly describes the physical appearance of a particular character you develop. Height, weight, eyes colour, hair colour and length, clothing style, etc. Whenever you are expanding your character’s personal information, at all times remember about the ruthless stereotypes (“blonds are stupid”). Moreover, there is a great workaround for such stereotypes: use them and then break them in your character. Remember Legally Blond? Elle Woods was described as a stupid blond who then developed into a fully-functional, savvy, and unique lawyer. Keep in mind that while you describe both family and personal information about a character, try to hold it back sometimes to explain a particular action of his or her later on and so keep the readers focused.

Strengths and weaknesses

No human being is perfect. Neither should be your character. Everyone has better and worse traits, so by engaging in these characteristics, you can keep your story fresh and alluring. Think of superheroes. Achilles was invincible – this is his strength, but he has his heel – this is his weakness.

A great character’s bio is built on how the people in your story overcome or give in to their weaknesses, how they use their strengths to their advantage or actually miss on noticing those. Walter White from Breaking Bad got so fed up with his life that he used the knowledge of chemistry (strength) to create a methamphetamine world-known cartel of some sort. G.I. Jane was initially weak physically, yet she gained the power to overcome it and become the first woman to undergo training in U.S. Navy Special Warfare Group.

Flaws empower empathy

There is no single person in the world without flaws. So a flawless character would not feel real to the readers and then viewers. Flaws make your characters more humane, even though they might not be actual human beings, such as Gamora, Groot or Rocket from the Guardians of the Galaxy or Neytiri with Tsu-tey from Avatar. Every character in a film needs to have their flaws to call for empathy from the readers and viewers. Without empathy, they will seem dull and tedious.  

But don’t mix up flaws with weaknesses. Peter Parker from Spider-Man had a weakness – it is Ethyl Chloride, which is a deadly chemical for all spider-esque characters. But a flaw is something more personal; for Peter Parker, it would be willing to save everyone and everywhere without taking time to save himself.

And the final point in tips for improving your character’s bio is to explain to the readers why they should care. Producing crew from Red Rock Entertainment reviews hundreds of scripts monthly so the important thing they are looking is the explanation why they need to think of this character and a secret, why he or she is so engaging and luring. Remember that empathy and uncovered secrets are exactly what will make everyone remember your characters and your script, and which would eventually sell your work.

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