Screenwriting : Character Development by Rowan de Villiers

Rowan de Villiers

Character Development

Hi All,

I need some guidance on a specific conundrum I'm facing with two characters in a script I'm writing. 

To give you some context. The story centres around a family in the late 1930's living in a small town and continues until post WW2. There is groom on the family's Estate that has a very strong relationship to my central character. Now as my central character embarks on his journey of discovery post World War 2, this is where I'm caught in a conundrum. This groom is valuable to the story as he is a secondary father figure to my protagonist and also a close confidant. 

Do I elevate this minor character into a prominent character for the rest of the screenplay or should I keep him in a minor role / sounding board / confidant role? 

Most of this 'Grooms' role will be off screen (through letters and telegrams) as he stays behind to help look after the family estate while my protagonist goes on his journey of self discovery. 

Your guidance would be really appreciated here. I need to know how to develop this character while off screen or if he should stay ambiguous to the viewer? 

Wal Friman

Self discovery, you say. I feel that we all must distance us from the groom, meaning the role will remain small.

Ian Somers

Keep him as a minor character. Theres the danger that this mentor type character can overshadow a protagonist if given too much attention.

Max Bjork

It's tough to say without reading/knowing more. I would say unless the groom and the central character are going to have substantial screen time together -- even if it is not until the third act -- why would we (the audience) want to spend more time with the groom?

Does the groom act as a narrator through these letters? A voice over?

Rowan de Villiers

Max Bjork Wal Friman Ian Somers Thank you so much for your opinions and advice

The Groom/estate hand is not a pivotal character in the second & third act. But plays an integral role in the first act of my protagonist when he is young boy and growing up with a war hardened father who is loving but still very stern in his discipline and regimented management of the family. The Groom / estate hand plays the role of a mentor and wise figure in my protagonist's growth. It shapes him to be the man he is in the second and third act.

I think I'll keep the Groom/ estate hand's influence minor but still popping up during my protagonist's journey of self discovery while searching for where his brother and father were buried during WW2.

Ian Somers

Sounds like a good plan, Rowan. Best of luck with it

Craig D Griffiths

I would think the character as the role they play. He plays an important part of the other person considers him important. Does the role he plays in that person life a constant.

I use one of these matrix to understand how a character may interact with the world.

Gary Floyd

Some of the best writing advice I've come across is, "You don't know what's missing until you know what's already there." Finish a first draft, if you haven't already, and you'll have a much clearer picture of where this character and others fit in the story because you'll have a complete story as a guideline. Also, give your first draft to test readers. Their response to characters both primary and secondary will tell you a lot about where to invest your creative energies. In short, there's not a paint-by-numbers answer. This must be sussed out through practicum.

CJ Walley

The only thing I would be concerned about in this situation is potentially having boring scenes where you have a character writing/monologuing letters. This can be done well but it takes some talent to pull it off. The Crown by Peter Morgan is a good example of the situation being handled well.


Show the character´s impact on the protagonist offstage. This is a mighty role and keeps the audience in suspense. Do not show so much the person himselve but show all he does to the protagonist and how he influences his decisions from the background.

Eric Sollars

You could make the guy a sidekick.

Gregg McBride

Rules are meant to be broken, Rowan de Villiers. Please, please invent a way that an unseen character is important to the story. Of course, the big "rule" for screenwriters is SHOW, don't TELL. So is there a way you can feature this character on-screen? An open ended question, I assure you. Do what feels organic to you and best serves your story. (I'm realizing now my commentary is semi worthless -- LOL! But keep at it!)

Eric Sollars

The sidekick trick works many times. One example where it enhances the story is TOMBSTONE. That movie would not be the same without the sidekick Doc Holliday. He has some great lines. Val Kilmer should have been nominated for an Oscar.. That's the magic of a sidekick.

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