Bit characters are important to your story. They might be small but they can help push your plot forward. Learn how to make them memorable.
Chances are, your favorite movie and TV characters are the stars of series. They're the reason you tune in every week. But today, I wanted to highlight the unsung heroes of screenwriting. The characters that separate okay writers from great writers.
I'm talking about bit characters. But what are bit characters? And how do they affect the story?
Let's go over some famous bit characters, learn the definition, and talk about how we can use these kinds of roles to solidify our voice as writers.
A bit character is someone within a movie or TV show whose role is minor. These minor characters are usually there to help deliver exposition and move the plot forward. Oftentimes they have only a few lines and can be treated as expendable.
How to make your bit character stand out
The best bit characters:
1. Have clear motivation
2. Are part of their own story
3. Can be indicative of the tone and genre
Here Are the Best Bit Character Traits
Despite only being in one or two scenes, your bit characters need to have clear motivations. The clearer the motivation, the better they will be. Since all drama is about conflict, bit characters and their motivations should butt up against the lead character or help get them in more trouble.
Remember the old saying "The villain is the hero of their own story?" Well, these minor characters think they're the hero of their own stories.
When you write them, try to create a backstory that builds who they are and why they behave the way they do. See what kind of stuff you can actually pull into the screenplay as well.
When you use them, have their actions and dialogue be directly in line with the tone and genre of the movie or show.
So if it's a horror movie, that means the people you coincidentally meet should be scary.
In a comedy, they need to be funny. In an action movie, they can provide guns, be hackers, or even get our heroes into even more trouble.
Let's take a look at some bit character examples to see how they matter to the story.
Famous bit character examples
First up, No Country for Old Men. The Coens are excellent at making their bit roles stand out. One of the most memorable characters in this movie is the guy in the gas station who calls the coin flip.
Right off the bat, we know this guy is close to retirement due to his age. We can infer that death is on his mind, and that he's met a lot of people over the course of his life. In addition to all this stuff, we learn the gas station was his father in law's and he's worked it, almost as a dowery for his wife. He just wants to get home fo the day, and that puts him directly against Chirgurh's motivation of calling it.
It makes this interaction incredible important to the plot because it's where we hear the defined terms of the coin flip.
Another great example is the Air Marshall from Bridesmaids. Their scene always makes audiences laugh. It's a great example of how the tone and genre of the movie are highlighted by these minor roles.
Here, we get a guy who has clear motivations. It butts directly against the person next to him, and it has a plant and payoff joke. He has a distinct role to play and gets to do it when it matters the most.
Lastly, let's revisit the periphery characters inThe Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Epic movies, especially trilogies, are often filled with minor characters who play important roles within the story. People like Galadriel -- who we only meet once -- but who imbue the hobbits with gifts and foreshadowing, are tropes within fantasy.
Even Samwise's love interest, Rosie, is a minor character who provides motivation for him to survive. Their smallest interactions are tender and reveal a lot about who she is as a character and what makes the Shire so special.
Who are your favorite bit characters? Let us know in the comments.
What's next? Learn Character Archetypes!
Character archetypes are the start point for creating the people we love, hate, learn from, and never forget in television and Movies. Click to learn!