Reader Question: What is the best way to make sure readers love my characters?

Characters are the major conduits for a reader into the story’s emotional life.

Reader question via @Sylent_steel from my recent #scriptchat session:

I love my characters! What is the best way to make sure readers will too?

Seems like you’re off to a good start in that you already love your characters. Presumably your affection for them will show up on the page.

That’s the thing about characters: They are the major conduits for a reader into the story’s emotional life. The more we dig into them, the more we understand the psychological dynamics at work in who they are and where their narrative destiny is taking them, the more likely we will be able to tap into their emotional nature.

First tip: Look for big ticket items such as want and need, and in particular zero in on aspects of their lives which are universal in nature. Trust. Fear. Hope. Despair. Belief. Regret. Each of us as individuals in our lifetime acquires a kaleidoscope of experiences, all of them coming with some form of emotional attachment and meaning. So, too, with characters. Those big issues can not only create a point of identification with a reader, but also help shape where the plot goes.

Also look for small specific dynamics at work in the lives of your characters. There’s a quote I love from author Anne Beattie: “People forget years and remember moments.” I don’t know about you, but that’s my experience with movies. You say a movie title, I immediately conjure up moments from that movie. And sometimes, the most powerful moments are the seemingly small ones.

Here’s an example from The Shawshank Redemption, a movie filled with memorable moments. There is a beautiful four-moment subplot centering around a harmonica:

  • After Andy gets out of solitary confinement for the first time, he heads to the mess hall for a meal with the others. Asked how he survived, here is Andy’s reply and the ensuing conversation:
I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company.
Hardly felt the time at all.
Oh, they let you tote that record
player down there, huh? I could'a
swore they confiscated that stuff.
(taps his heart, his head)
The music was here...and here.
That's the one thing they can't
confiscate, not ever. That's the
beauty of it. Haven't you ever felt
that way about music, Red?
Played a mean harmonica as a younger
man. Lost my taste for it. Didn't
make much sense on the inside.
Here's where it makes most sense.
We need it so we don't forget.
That there are things in this world
not carved out of gray stone. That
there's a small place inside of us
they can never lock away, and that
place is called hope.
Hope is a dangerous thing. Drive a
man insane. It's got no place here.
Better get used to the idea.

So this little moment establishes two things: Hope, which is a HUGE theme in the story, and the harmonica.

  • Later Andy surprises Red by giving him a gift: A harmonica.

It’s a nice reversal in that Red is the guy who gets things including Andy’s rock hammer. Here Andy repays the gesture. Again a nice little moment cementing their evolving friendship.

  • In a scene soon after, Red is alone in his cell. He pulls out the harmonica. Studies it. Puts it to his lips and gives it the tiniest of toots. Puts it back in the box. And that is that.

This quiet tiny moment speaks volumes. Andy made a specific connection between hope and music. Indeed, he reinforced it by playing the Mozart opera over the prison loudspeaker system, a moment which transfixed the entire prison population. Here is how Red responded to that moment:

                             RED (V.O.) 
I have no idea to this day what
them two Italian ladies were
singin' about. Truth is, I don't
want to know. Some things are best
left unsaid. I like to think they
were singin' about something so
beautiful it can't be expressed in
words, and makes your heart ache
because of it.
CAMERA brings us to Red.
                             RED (V.O.) 
I tell you, those voices soared.
Higher and farther than anybody in
a gray place dares to dream. It was
like some beautiful bird flapped
into our drab little cage and made
these walls dissolve away...and for
the briefest of moments -- every
last man at Shawshank felt free.

So harmonica = music = hope. The fact Red in that private moment in his cell where he gives the harmonica nothing more than a little toot suggests he’s not bought into the message of hope. Which leads us to one of the most emotionally riveting moments in the script.

  • The day before Andy escapes, he makes Red promise if he ever gets out of prison to go to a field in Buxton:
One in particular. Got a long rock
wall with a big oak at the north
end. Like something out of a Robert
Frost poem. It's where I asked my
wife to marry me. We'd gone for a
picnic. We made love under that
tree. I asked and she said yes.
Promise me, Red. If you ever get
out, find that spot. In the base of
that wall you'll find a rock that
has no earthly business in a Maine
hayfield. A piece of black volcanic
glass. You'll find something buried
under it I want you to have.
What? What's buried there?
You'll just have to pry up that
rock and see.

Which leads to this scene:

Now listen to the soundtrack… carefully. In the cut called “Compass and Guns,” at the 2:44 mark, precisely when Red first sees the tree in the field, we hear a harmonica. Then again at 3:15. I’ve cued it up so you can listen to it here.

A tiny moment, but what a wondrous grace note to round out the harmonica = music = hope theme. Of course, capped off by the final side of dialogue in the movie:

                           RED (V.O.) 
I hope I can make it across the
border. I hope to see my friend
and shake his hand. I hope the
Pacific is as blue as it has been
in my dreams.
I hope.

Sigh. Such a great movie.

Circling back to where we started, some advice to make readers love your characters as much as you do:

  • Love your characters: That passion makes it more likely you will write vibrant, alive characters. If you care about them, hopefully others will care about them, too.
  • Look for the big ticket items: Universal dynamics and themes your characters may have at work in their lives as those help to sweep up a reader into larger drama of those characters’ lives.
  • Look for small, meaningful moments: Where pure, honest, genuine emotion can speak directly to the reader.

There is a host of other things you can do. Make the characters funny. Charming. Entertaining. Courageous. And don’t forget, there are some characters who you want us to hate. But let’s start the conversation here.

GITS readers, what are your thoughts? How do you write characters you love so that others will love them as well?

Comment Archive

Reader Question: What is the best way to make sure readers love my characters? was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Sitges Review: Joachim Trier’s ‘Thelma’ is One of the Year’s Best Films

Thelma Review

The power of love. It’s such a relief to watch a film and discover it’s truly as wonderful as everyone has been saying. Joachim Trier’s Thelma has been getting rave reviews ever since premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest (Jeremy wrote a glowing review already). I caught up with the film at the Sitges Film Festival and it’s now one of my favorite films of the year, a wonderfully exhilarating, gripping sexual awakening story. Joachim Trier is a very talented Norwegian filmmaker who has already made a name for himself with the films Oslo August 31st and Louder Than Bombs, but continues to get even better with each new film he makes. Thelma is his finest work yet, one of the year’s best that is worth your time to discover. ›››

Continue reading Sitges Review: Joachim Trier’s ‘Thelma’ is One of the Year’s Best Films

The Future of Buying Lenses & The Best Screenwriters of All Time [PODCAST]

This episode of Indie Film Weekly introduces a new lens marketplace, plus a ranking of the best screenwriters ever, and a filmmaker changing the entire ad business.

Jon Fusco, Charles Haine, and yours truly, Liz Nord discuss Vulture’s list of the Top 100 Screenwriters of All Time, a new online marketplace for lenses, an indie distributor making bold moves, and how one filmmaker is changing the entire advertising industry. Charles also answers an Ask No Film School question about whether or not you need to buy a cage for your small camera.

As always, we also bring you the latest gear news, upcoming grant and festival deadlines, a slew of new indie film releases, weekly words of industry wisdom, and other notable things you might have missed while you were busy making films. You can see all the links from this show in this week’s podcast post at

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No Film School

Thrifty Nifty Fifties: 5 of the Best 50mm You Can Buy for Under $100

You don’t have to spend your entire paycheck to get a good lens.

If you’re a new filmmaker who doesn’t know much about lenses, you might be under the impression that the more a lens costs the better it is. This—is kind of true. I mean, advanced features and higher quality components demand more of your dollars, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a quality lens that can produce great images for a fraction of the price.

This is especially important to remember when purchasing your first lens, which most industry professionals would suggest should be a good ol’ nifty fifty, including photographer Kai Wong. He names five 50mm lenses that he considers to be the best in terms of sharpness, bokeh, and build quality in the video below—and video that basically becomes a budget filmmaker’s shopping list.

Here is the list of lenses Kai mentions in the video:

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No Film School

‘The Florida Project’ Might Be The Best Movie of the Year [TIFF]

The Florida Project Review

The Magic Kingdom colors almost every scene of The Florida Project. Sean Baker’s achingly beautiful and heartbreaking new film is set in Florida (obviously), very close to Disney, and nearly everything in the background advertises the The Most Magical Place On Earth. Tourist trap stores with huge painted signs advertising Disney merch constantly lurk in the periphery.

But the characters in The Florida Project occupy their own kingdom, one comprised of rundown motels and abandoned buildings. These might seem like squalid conditions, but Baker finds a way to make them seem warm and welcoming without ever trying to glamorize them. The sunsets are fierce and gorgeous, lush pinks and reds and golds, vast and seeming to stretch on for infinity. They feel like home.

Read on for The Florida Project review.

At the center of The Florida Project is Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, astoundingly good here), an adventurous child who rules over the kingdom that is the motel she lives in with her struggling mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). By day, Moonee frolics wildly through the motel courtyard and beyond with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). Whenever films deal with children as the primary characters they run the risk of treating the kids too precociously, or worse, portraying the children as mini-adults. The Florida Project never makes this mistake — the kids here always seem like kids. They’re occasionally bratty, occasionally cruel, but altogether good. They find adventure and fun wherever they can, and it’s often a joy to sit back and watch them act out.

Brooklyn Prince’s performance as Moonee is the glue that holds all of this together. The Florida Project plays coy with just who its main character is at first — at the start of the film, all of the kids seem to be receiving equal time. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes more and more about Moonee, and about how her world is in danger of falling apart while she remains cheerfully oblivious. I’m not sure how much of Prince’s performance as ad libbed, but all of it feels 100% genuine; the type of raw, lightning-in-a-bottle performance that actors twice her age can only dream of. An outsider might look at Moonee’s living conditions and worry, but to Moonee, every day is a wonderful adventure. There’s so much to do, and there are so many waffles to eat.

Baker keeps the camera low to the ground often, putting us firmly into the visual field of a child — we’re down there with them, and the whole adult world is looming above. That adult world includes Bobby, the kindly motel manager played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is an acclaimed actor with an impressive career, yet it cannot be overstated how phenomenal he is in this movie. There’s an unmitigated goodness to Bobby, a weary but kind soul who wants to do the right thing. A character like this would be easy to cheapen and turn maudlin, but Baker’s script and Dafoe’s performance never performs this disservice. It’s a quiet performance, and much of the power comes from the somewhat sad, knowing glances Dafoe gives to the world around him. But just as often there’s kindness — Bobby can grow frustrated with the kid’s shenanigans, yet he’s always willing to give them a second chance.

Moonee’s mother Halley will never be a candidate for parent of the year. She sells knock-off perfume and stolen goods to make ends meet, and when that isn’t enough, she turns to even less desirable methods. It would be easy to portray this characters as a monster; a terrible person doing terrible things. But that’s not how The Florida Project works. Halley is flawed, yes – at times almost devastatingly so. But Baker doesn’t judge her, and Vinaite’s performance – blunt and at times even abrasive – is pitch-perfect. Halley is flawed, yes, but she’s trying.

Everyone here is trying. Trying hard to get through their day to day lives; trying to find magic in a frequently unmagical kingdom. Late in the film, Moonee and Jancey are sitting on a tree having lunch. Baker keeps the camera in close on the two girls, not really giving us a good look at the tree they’re perched on. “Do you know why this is my favorite tree?” Moonee asks her friend. “Because it tipped over and it’s still growing.” At this point, Baker cuts to a wide shot, showing a huge, sprawling, toppled willow. It’s a breathtaking moment, and the line lingers, perfectly summing up the characters in the film. They may have all fallen at one point, but they’re still growing.

The final moments of The Florida Project unfold breathlessly — tension is mounting, and there’s the queasy sense that something terrible is about to happen, like a destructive storm about to break. And then Baker does something magnificent — he follows Moonee and Jancey on one last adventure before the credits roll. Is it real or is it fantasy? It doesn’t matter. It’s magic. We can all do with a bit more magic in our kingdoms.

/Film Rating: 10 out of 10

The post ‘The Florida Project’ Might Be The Best Movie of the Year [TIFF] appeared first on /Film.


The Best of the /Filmcast: Vol. 1


This week, we bring you two of our favorite reviews from the archives: our reviews of Transformers: The Age of Extinction and Chappie.

You can always e-mail us at slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com, or call and leave a voicemail at 781-583-1993. Also, like us on Facebook!

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Featured reviews:
  • Transformers: The Age of Extinction
  • SPOILERS (39:26)
  • Chappie (58:55)
  • SPOILERS (1:21:23)
  • Our music sometimes comes from the work of Adam Warrock. You can download our theme song here. Our Slashfilmcourt music comes from Our spoiler bumper comes from filmmaker Kyle Hillinger.
  • If you’d like advertise with us or sponsor us, please e-mail
  • Contact us at our voicemail number: 781-583-1993
  • You can donate and support the /Filmcast by going to and clicking on the sidebar “Donate” links! Thanks to all our donors this week!

The post The Best of the /Filmcast: Vol. 1 appeared first on /Film.


Jacqueline Bisset Joins Sarah Jessica Parker in Best Day of My Life

Sarah Jessica Parker's Best Day of My Life has just cast Jacqueline Bisset as Parker's mother

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Best Day of My Life has just cast Jacqueline Bisset as Parker’s mother

Emmy-nominated actress Jacqueline Bisset (Joan of ArcDancing On the Edge) has been cast in Sarah Jessica Parker‘s (Sex and the CityI Don’t Know How She Does It) upcoming romantic drama Best Day of My Life, according to Variety. Bisset will reportedly play the role of Parker’s mother. Best Day of My Life also stars Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s DiaryJerry Maguire), Common (Smokin’ AcesNow You See Me), Isabella Rossellini (Blue VelvetDeath Becomes Her), Simon Baker (The MentalistThe Devil Wears Prada), Taylor Kinney (The Other WomanZero Dark Thirty), and Gus Birney (The MistChicago Med).

Best Day of My Life is the story of a jazz vocalist (Parker) in New York City who gets a terrible diagnosis as she is about to begin a world tour. Her mother (Bisset) comes to visit her daughter for the weekend in New York, and mostly speaks French.

The film will be directed by Fabien Constant and the screenplay comes to us from Laura Eason. Parker will serve as a producer along with Ambi Group’s Andrea Ievolino and Monica Bacardi, as well as Alison Benson. Executive producers include Phil Hunt and Compton Ross of Head Gear Films.

Jacqueline Bisset is known for her work in the miniseries Joan of Arc, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award, as well as Dancing on the Edge, for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. She’s also known for her roles in Day for Night and Murder on the Orient Express.

What do you guys think of the casting of Jacqueline Bisset in Best Day of My Life? Are you interested in the film? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ComingSoonnet.

The post Jacqueline Bisset Joins Sarah Jessica Parker in Best Day of My Life appeared first on

Are you telling the best part of the story in your novel or script?

When you have a great idea for a screenplay it’s very tempting to rush to the computer and start writing. However, taking some time to think about a number of different ways you could tell the story may lead to a truly outstanding script rather than just a good one.

In a Fast Company series of successful authors’ tips on writing better stories, Terence Winter (creator, writer, and executive producer of the series, Boardwalk Empire) makes a great point about choosing the most interesting part of a story to tell:

“Every movie you’ve ever seen about Al Capone shows him at the height of his power, and sort of like Al Capone’s Greatest Hits. If you can only spend two hours with Al Capone, you want it to be when he’s at the top of his game.

On Boardwalk Empire, we meet Al Capone when he’s a kid driving a truck. That Al Capone is so much more interesting to me because we get to see him become the guy we know, and we had hours and hours to do it, and really see what formed him and what made this guy tick and that’s so much more a luxury as a storyteller and more satisfying for the audience.”

The series Gotham does something similar by looking at the formative years of the man who became Batman, and also by focusing on a character (Inspector Gordon) who has a supporting role in the later story.

Even for a screenplay there’s value in taking the time to brainstorm a number of ways of approaching the story before committing to one. For instance, a kidnapping story could be told with any of these as the viewpoint character:

* the victim

* the loved ones of the victim

* the detective investigating the case

* the kidnapper

* someone who is wrongly accused of the kidnapping

* someone who inadvertently or unwillingly gets involved in the crime

* a psychic (fake or genuine–if there is such a thing–who is asked to help locate the victim

* a previous victim of the kidnapper who realises she knows something that could help but is reluctant to relive the experience

Find out more about writing your screenplay at The Script Coach Series Jurgen Wolff starting Monday, 10 July. 

The post Are you telling the best part of the story in your novel or script? appeared first on Raindance.


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