Building a Character in Prewrite

Today I’m going to discuss building a character in Prewrite, and how the character choices you make not only affect the content of your story, but your ability to connect with your target audience. Let’s get started.

Writers often obsess over making their characters seem “real” by conjuring up details from the mundane to the minute, most of which never make it onto the page.

There’s nothing wrong with details, but we encourage writers to address them as they become relevant to the story. Not to be reductive, but it doesn’t matter if your character majored in Spanish if the movie takes place in Poland. When you’re building a character, you want to focus on the core beliefs and desires that will be tested as the story unfolds. These situations tease out the details that truly matter. Prewrite provides you with a series of prompts to craft a complex and consistent character.

Let’s walk through each section:

# Name

Picking the right name won’t make or break your story, but it’s an excellent way to quickly convey background, social standing, personal temperament. Farnsworth Pennybottom evokes a much different image than, say, Dirk Diggler. Also maybe try to avoid cutesy alliterations unless you're P.T. Anderson. Or writing a movie about the porn industry. Or both.

# Age, Race and Gender

Obviously all three of these can help form a picture in the readers mind, but they also help you check for diversity and inclusivity in the early stages of your project. Considering this upfront will give your story an authenticity that a last-minute diversity pass on a final draft just can’t. Theres only one writer who can get away with having their token female character light a scarf on fire in a jealous rage over an app developer. And you’re not him just yet.

# Archetype

Our brains are pattern recognition machines. When you watch a movie or read a story, you’re subconsciously looking for things you’ve seen before. Just like beats that appear consistently across all stories, there are certain character types that we subconsciously expect to see on our hero’s journey.

These characters have appeared in stories so many times throughout the ages they’ve become universal symbols for the many facets of humanity.

Prewrite provides an extensive list of commonly used archetypes to assign your characters, as well as the ability to enter your own.

# Image

Whether you’re outlining a script, novel or video game readers will often ask, who do you see playing this role? Matching your characters to a specific image can help bring your story to life. Using an image of a well-known actor can give them a sense of how your character acts in the world of the story.

Prewrite connects you to a database of actor images, searchable by name if you have someone specific in mind, or by work, if it’s a “hey it’s that guy” situation.

# Character Synopsis

This typically is a simple breakdown of your character’s defining traits and motivations. It’s particularly useful when putting together a series pitch or proposal. For example: 35 yo starship captain with a chip on his shoulder. A loose cannon with a heart of gold. He wants to boldly go where….you get the picture.

# Want

Characters are usually driven by a core desire. It’s not usually something important to their survival, without it life stays the same, but they believe that if they were to have it, life would be better.

If you’re building your main character, nailing this core desire will help guide you when writing your scenes, because once you figure out what they want, you can start thinking of creative and unexpected ways to keep them from getting it. This is called conflict and it’s what great stories are made of.

Prewrite asks you to identify not only what your character wants but how they plan on getting it. This could be as simple as a general description of the journey ahead but we recommend also fleshing out some obstacle- these will become story beats as your project develops.

But stories have to go deeper than surface-level wants and McGuffins. Readers have to see or at least hope to see real change in a character if they’re going to stay engaged. That’s where a deeper need comes into play.

# Need

A character’s need is usually something they don’t fully realize is absent in their life. It can often be expressed as a character flaw keeping them from the thing they want. It’s the journey you send them on as the writer that shows them what’s missing.

For example, you want a sandwich. You need to find the strength inside you to move out of your mom’s basement. It’s important to understand the difference.

Prewrite asks you to define what your character needs, and how they realize that the need exists. Don’t skip this question because what it’s really asking you to define is the climax of the story. The climax is often a do or die moment that takes place when a character’s want comes into direct conflict with their need, and in order to succeed they must choose one over the other.

Keep in mind, a character’s need isn’t always satisfied. Some character arcs are darker than others. But if they don’t get what they need, or experience the deep change they require, the reader should have a full understanding of the tragedy of what’s been lost

# Notes

You weren’t born yesterday. And, for the most part, neither were your characters. Unless of course they were born sexy yesterday. Provide all those details we just encouraged you not to dwell on in this section. Their complex family dynamics, defining experiences and tragic backstories go here. So does their major.

Ultimately, character is plot and plot is character. Crafting a fully realized protagonist brings you that much closer to a compelling story before you’ve so much as written a single scene. Keep following Prewrite writing partners to beat the blank page.