Have you ever gotten sucked into a show or movie based on the characters? You just start watching, and suddenly the people on the screen just capture your heart?

This happened to me last week when I finally sat down to watch a show called Bad Sisters, and it got me thinking about characterization.

In the world of film and television, characterization plays a significant role in creating engaging and relatable narratives. It's a literary instrument employed by screenwriters and directors to breathe life into characters, giving them depth, personality, and a unique identity.

Today, let's delve into the art of characterization, highlighting its importance, its different types, and how it's used to enhance the storytelling process in film and TV.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?'Bad Sisters'Credit: Apple

What is Characterization in Film and TV?

Characterization is the process of defining a character's personality, life experiences, motivations, and psychological aspects through different narrative elements. It's the backbone of storytelling, creating a bridge between the audience and the characters, fostering a sense of connection and emotional investment.

In its essence, characterization is a tool that reveals the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. It can be direct, where the character's qualities are explicitly described by a narrator, another character, or by the character themselves.

Alternatively, it can be indirect, where the character's traits are inferred from their actions, thoughts, or dialogue.

It's crucial for both character development and character arcs.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?'The Wire'Credit: HBO

The Role of Characterization in Film and TV

Within the realm of film and TV, characterization is pivotal. It's the foundation upon which compelling stories are built. It's not just about having captivating plots; the characters that populate these narratives need to be intricately crafted to resonate with the audience.

You need to get people to care so they tune in. This is how to do that.

Strong characterization can transform a mundane plot into a captivating narrative. It's about creating characters that are multi-dimensional, layered, and full of depth, characters that are not merely placeholders in the story but active participants who drive the plot forward.

Thin characters can destroy even the best plots, but complex characters can make even the simplest plot stand out.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?January Jones as Betty Draper in 'Mad Men'Credit: Lionsgate Television

Direct vs. Indirect Characterization

Characterization in film and TV can be either direct (explicit) or indirect (implicit). Direct characterization involves the overt description of a character's attributes, often through a narrator, dialogue, or the character's self-description.

Who are they, what do they care about, what do they look like, and how do they act?

On the other hand, indirect characterization is more subtle and nuanced. It involves the portrayal of a character's qualities through their actions, behavior, appearance, and how they interact with others. It demands a level of interpretive engagement from the audience, making them active participants in understanding the character.

Indirect characterization fulfills the old writing adage, "Show, don't tell."

What is Diction and The Types of Diction in Writing'Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery'Credit: Netflix

The Art of Character Building

Building characters for a script is an intricate process. It involves creating a list of characteristics and motivations, establishing which traits are more vital than others, and imagining scenarios where these traits might come into play. The primary goal is to populate the screenplay with strong, vivid characters who can carry the story to its conclusion.

The character creation process also involves understanding the character's history, background, psychological makeup, interests, and desires. Each character should be unique and individual, having their own voice, mannerisms, and distinct personality traits.

Ralph_fiennes_laughing_wtih_ladies_grandbudapesthotel'The Grand Budapest Hotel'Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Characterization Through Dialogue and Actions

One of the most effective ways of characterization is through dialogue and actions. The way a character speaks or behaves can reveal a lot about their personality, background, and motivations.

For example, a character's choice of words, tone of voice, or reaction to certain situations can provide insights into their character.

Actions, in particular, speak volumes about a character. They help the audience to understand the character's values, beliefs, decision-making process, and how they interact with others. In essence, actions provide a window into a character's psyche, making them more relatable and believable.

Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, and Sterling K Brown in Marshall"Marshall"Credit: Open Road Films

The Power of Contrast in Characterization

Contrast is a powerful tool in characterization. It allows the audience to differentiate between characters and understand their unique traits. It can be used to highlight the differences between characters, making them stand out and adding depth to their personalities.

Creating contrast in characterization can also be used effectively within groups of characters. It allows for the exploration of the dynamics within the group, how each character relates to the others, and how they function within their environment.

Use characters who can brush up against one another. Their difference can create drama and allow for more stories to unfold as well.

The-first-star-studded-trailer-for-prequel-sopranos-kinode'The Many Saints of Newark'Credit: Warner Bros.

Realizing Characters Through Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is a technique where the character's traits are explicitly stated. It involves the use of description to convey the character's physical, psychological, or cultural attributes. This approach is straightforward, leaving little room for ambiguity or interpretation.

Direct characterization can be seen in movies like Captain America: The First Avenger and Taxi Driver, where the protagonists' attributes are clearly outlined, giving us a comprehensive understanding of their characters.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?'Captain America: The First Avenger'Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Art of Characterization in Iconic Movies

Characterization is at the heart of some of the most iconic movies in film history. Examples include The Dude (Jeff Bridges) from The Big Lebowski, Batman (Christian Bale) from Batman Begins, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Star Wars: A New Hope. These characters are memorable and full of depth, thanks to effective characterization.

In these examples, the characters' personalities are developed through dialogue, action, and interactions with others. Their distinct voice, mannerisms, attitudes, and unique personality traits make them stand out, making them memorable and relatable to the audience.

They have souls and they breathe more life into the worlds they inhabit.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Characterization in Crisis

In every gripping narrative, there comes a point of crisis or inflection where the character's true nature is revealed. This is often a climactic choice that changes the course of the narrative and provides a deep insight into the character's psyche.

The inflection point is a crucial aspect of characterization. It's the moment where the character's motivations, desires, and beliefs are put to the test. How they react to this crisis tells us a lot about their character, making the narrative more engaging and emotionally resonant.

How your character acts when their back is against the wall will tell us everything we need to know.

What is Characterization in Film and TV?'The Great'Credit: Marisa Taghizadeh/Hulu

Summing Up What is Characterization in Film and TV?

Characterization is a fundamental aspect of storytelling in film and TV. It's the process of creating multi-dimensional characters that the audience can connect with on an emotional level.

Through direct and indirect characterization, writers and directors can craft narratives that are engaging, relatable, and emotionally resonant. Whether it's through dialogue, action, or contrast, effective characterization brings characters to life, making them an integral part of the narrative.

Now go get writing.