March 7

How to Create Original Characters for Your Movie


Interesting and unforgettable characters are probably the single most important element for any audience to enjoy a movie.  People like stories about other people, so any good movie or TV show needs to start with fascinating, well-rounded characters audiences will relate to and enjoy watching.

How do you do this?  First, start by deciding what kind of character traits your characters have.    That might sound obvious, but doing a good job requires some knowledge of how humans behave and why.   The term “character trait” essentially refers to the attributes, attitudes, and behaviors that mix together to comprise one’s personality.  There is a long list below.

charlie chaplin in old silent movie

Charlie Chaplin was an actor and commedian from the early, silent era of film.  He was well-known for the many colorful characters he created.

When creating characters for a movie, consider the many different ways people behave, look and speak. Get in the habit of studying people and being observant in your everyday life.  Do you know anyone like this character in real life? It always helps to follow the writer’s adage: “write what you know.” You can also learn by imitating what has been done to create popular characters in successful TV shows and movies.  So always pay close attention when watching any movie or TV, think about the traits of the characters and how they affect the story.

The obvious characteristics of a character are things like:

  • Age
  • Looks
  • Gender
  • What they do for a living (or school)
  • Where they live
  • What they believe about life and the world around them

Emotional characteristics and personality traits are much more relevant to the creative process than superficial, physical attributes when building characters. However, in a visual medium such as film, what the character looks like has an immediate and lasting effect on the viewer, so they must be mapped out during creation.

Much is accomplished with wardrobe, make-up and acting, which is very obvious with these two pictures of Mayim Bialik (left) who plays Amy on the Big Bang Theory.  Her character, Amy on right, looks like a significantly different person than the actress herself.  This is due to hair, make-up and glasses as well as clothes, body language and facial expressions.

actress mayim bialik and her character amy farrah fowler

Key Terms Defined

Here are some important terms to know when creating fictional characters.

Well-rounded characters:  This is a character who displays many character traits and comes across like a fully developed, nuanced, and complicated person, which is how real people are.  The main characters of any story need to be well-rounded characters for a quality movie.

Cardboard characters: Flat, one-dimensional characters who display only one or two characteristics. Real people are not this way, so a cardboard character will not be deep and rich.   Sometimes, a few cardboard characters can make it easier for a writer to tell the story, but they should never be a main character.

The more well-rounded characters a movie has, the more engaging of a story you will have. A children’s movie is much more likely to have lots of cardboard characters.

To develop full, well-rounded characters audiences will enjoy, you need to put a lot of thought into it. The more real-life experience you gain, the easier this will be!  You can always use people and circumstances you know for inspiration.

Write what you know but change it enough, so you don’t get sued.  🙂

Quality movie characters should be realistic and lifelike enough to be believable for an audience. At the same time, a quality movie character will be in a circumstance larger than life, so that can be a fine line for the movie creator.

Suspension of belief is a phrase that means the audience knows it is just a movie, so will forgive characters and situations not being totally realistic.  Think of a movie like Iron Man.

Target market: A terms that describes what kind of audience the movie is intended for. Is it for kids? Teens? Older adults? This makes a big difference when creating characters.  You want your characters to appeal to your target market.  Children are not as savvy as adults when it comes to human nature, so it naturally follows the characters in movies aimed at kids will have simpler personality profiles.

Character driven: When creating the story, the writer imagines what such a person would do in that specific situation, and then the story writes itself.  (Or so they say) Most writers feel this is the best way to do it.

Plot driven: When creating the story, the creator is motivated creatively by what things need to happen for a good story.  i.e. adding a love element.  In general, it is thought this is an inferior way to develop a story compared to character driven, but I don’t think that is always true.  Most finished stories are a combination of both methods.

To create deep, well-rounded characters, you must KNOW THE EMOTIONAL Make-up OF YOUR CHARACTERS.

  • Most people are a mixture of traits.
  • Individual traits are always on a continuum.
  • Behavior often depends on circumstance.
  • When deciding how your character will respond to the events of your story, always considered what their motivation might be.  Real people don’t do things for no reason.  Motivation is always key to how a character will behave.

Characters in any story also evolve over time.  They change during the story due to whatever they experience in the story.  Usually, the end of the story comes when the main character has reached some sort of goal or milestone.

One interesting trend with character development in serial TV shows has been termed Flanderization.  This term describes the evolution of a character where one oversimplified trait becomes the crux of the character. It’s a technique that originated with The Simpsons and is mainly used in comedy shows,


the odd couple tv show 70s Jack Krugman and Tony
The Odd Couple starring Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison ran on TV in the 1970s.

Oscar Madison and Felix Unger were the two main characters in The Odd Couple, an incredibly successful story franchise.  The franchise worked because the characters were storytelling magic together.

Originally a Broadway play, The Odd Couple has also been made into a movie and two TV shows.   One aired in the 1970s and the other has aired recently. The show was built around the relationship of two men who were forced to live together due to divorce. The two characters clashed and were called the odd couple because they had drastically different personalities, one being a neat freak and the other being a slob.

Can you tell by looking at the actors in costume for both TV shows which character was the slob, and which was the neat freak?  Yes, you can because the show producers and costume designers made sure of it.

actors from the new Odd Couple show
The Odd Couple starring Thomas Lennon as Felix Unger and Matthew Perry as Oscar Madison aired on TV from 2014 to 2017.

Discomfort on the part of the character, which leads to conflict or action of some kind, becomes part of what drives the story forward.

Whatever characteristics you choose, those traits will drive both the character and the story forward. Often, tension is created in a story by using characters that have opposite traits from each other.  The Odd Couple is the classic example of this.

However, in a short video like a :30 spot, you have to rely on clichés, especially visual clichés

In addition to this list of human traits, a character’s habits and preferences can also be used to develop them as a character. Is the person a neat-nick, or do they live like a slob?  Do they listen to classical music or rap music?

Are they picky about what they eat, or do they eat cold pizza for breakfast? Thinking about a character’s habits can help you create full and interesting characters.

Here is a long list of human traits people have to one degree or another. Real people have lots of different traits, but it is all very individualized. Some people have more of one or the other, and circumstances always have an influence.

People are mixtures.  You can be smart in some things but dumb in others. Real people fall on a spectrum with their skills, talents, and behavioral characteristics.


Listed in pairs of opposites.

Real people will be somewhere on a contium between the two extremes listed.  People are a mixture of positive and negative traits.  Nobody is perfect and nobody is 100% bad.  Adding an unusual trait is a good strategy for making your characters more interesting.


  • Brilliant, able to figure things out.
  • Stupid, totally clueless about how to solve any problem


  • Educated (not the same as smart)
  • Not educated


  • Brave, willing to confront danger without whining 
  • Timid, hides from everything and everybody. 


  • Shy, finds it difficult to speak with people
  • Outgoing and has conversations easily with everybody, including strangers.


  • Funny, laughs a lot and makes others laughs. 
  • Serious about everything, no sense of humor at all


  • Extrovert:  Finds it easy to be around other people  
  • Introvert:  Would rather be by themselves


  • Adventuresome, willing to try new things
  • Homebody, never leaves home and is heavily into routines


  • Crooked, lies cheats and steals
  • Honest, would never keep one penny that does not belong to them


  • Loyal, stays with a person or cause
  • Disloyal, backstabber


  • Devious, Manipulative, purposely lies and misleads others for their own purposes
  • Straight forward and able to say what they mean politely and calmly.


  • Liar, willing to say anything
  • Truthful to a fault. 


  • Mysterious, never reveals anything about themselves
  • Walk up to strangers and tells them intimate details of their lives


  • Rich
  • Poor


  • Stuck up, arrogant.  Thinks they do no wrong
  • Humble


  • Kind
  • Mean


  • Depressed
  • Happy


  • Energetic
  • Lethargic


  • Good health
  • Poor health


  • Generous, gives everything away
  • Stingy, wouldn’t give you anything if you were starving to death


  • Loud
  • Quiet


  • Liberal politically, among other things thinks gays have rights, supports abortion rights, wants government to help people
  • Conservative politically, thinks government can not help people adequately or fairly, against gays, against abortion


  • Angry, mad all the time
  • Calm, never shows anger


  • Naive, always sees the good in people to the extreme, inexperienced, trusting
  • Cynical:  negative attitude.  Thinks everybody is out to rip them off. 


  • Experienced
  • Novice


  • Rude
  • Polite


  • Violent, likes to kill people
  • Nonviolent, takes spiders outside and wouldn’t think of  killing them


  • Deeply Religious
  • Atheist


  • Loving
  • Hateful


  • Confident
  • Insecure


  • Graceful,
  • Awkward/clumsy, trips over their own feet


  • Strong conscious, deeply troubled by injustice
  • Psychopath, does not care at all who they hurt


  • Hard working
  • Lazy


  • Responsible
  • Irresponsible


  • Vindictive, always seeks revenge
  • Forgiving, never holds a grudge


  • Moral
  • Immoral


  • Always looks at the negative
  • Always looks for the positive


  • Mature (not necessarily related to age)
  • Immature


  • Slob
  • Neat freak


  • In your own words, why are fascinating, well-rounded characters an essential element for a good movie?
  • Describe the differences between well-rounded characters and cardboard characters.
  • In your opinion, why do opposite characters like those in The Odd Couple, tend to do well with audiences?



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