Character Development for Television
Writing for television, and to a slightly lesser extent, a limited series, is a dreamscape for writers who want to fully explore their characters in depth. In a half-hour pilot, you’re only going to be able to hint at your characters’ Wants, Traits, and Flaws, but when skillfully accomplished, it’s beautiful.
Look at Homeland, for example. In the pilot episode, we know a whole lot about Carrie. She’s tenacious, principled, doesn’t follow the rules, is super smart, puts work before motherhood, and is bipolar. The series uncovers all of these characteristics as it progresses.
Another fabulous example of character development in television is, of course, Breaking Bad. Over the course of the series, Walter White transforms from a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to a total badass, and not in the positive sense of that descriptor. Vince Gilligan accomplishes this brilliantly for all the series’ characters. They start off one way and undergo monumental changes over the years.
For more ideas on developing your characters for both features and television, browse our curated library of articles, blogs, and videos that have inspired us. Or if you prefer a good book, check out Marilyn Atlas’ fun and informative, Dating Your Characters.
Pro TIP: Study pilots in your television genre to see how much of the characters’ depth is revealed in Episode 1. It’s extraordinary how much a good writer can show in 35-45 pages, or fewer for sitcoms.
All right. Ready to get serious about planning and plotting your Character Arcs and how they fit your story beats.
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