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Characters

Characters and Phases in Open Screenplay

In Open Screenplay there will be either four or five phases for the development of the screenplay, depending on which Type: Characters, Story Outline, Scene Outline, Form, and Script.

You will be able to add characters in most phases, but each type of character will have different availability during each phase.  First we will describe the characters you’ll be able to contribute, and after we will explain their availability in each phase.   

Open Screenplay Character Options - Film

In a Feature or Short Film Open Screenplay, during the Characters Phase you’ll have the ability to create and contribute traits to five types of characters:

Protagonist
Influencing Character
Opponent
Other Characters
Minor Characters

An explanation of each of these character options is detailed in the following sections.

One other type of character that exists in Open Screenplay are Potential CharactersA full explanation of them will come toward the end of this tutorial (see below).

Protagonist

The Protagonist is the hero, primary character, or focus of any story or storyline. It’s Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, Leonard in Memento. If your Open Screenplay is not an ensemble, you can only have one Protagonist. The Protagonist should have a Goal that drives him or her forward while they proactively face obstacles and struggle to overcome their Character Flaw.

For a further explanation and more examples, check out our tutorials on Protagonist, Character Flaw, and Goal.

Influencing Character

Influencing Characters are with the Protagonist on the Adventure. They help change the Protagonist in some way and are usually a friend, sidekick, mentor, associate, coworker, or love interest.  They can be an existing relationship or a new person in the Protagonist’s life. They usually help the Protagonist achieve their goal while also inspiring them learn to behave in a new way. (The Kid in Bad Santa; Kyle Reese in The Terminator; Rachel (Mila Kunis) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

For a further explanation and more examples, check out our tutorial on Influencing Character.

Opponent

The Opponent is the character that stands in the way of the Protagonist’s goal by either opposing it or competing for it. The Opponent places obstacles in the way of the Protagonist. He, she, or it is the primary opposing force and the main source of conflict in the story.  (Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; the fraternity led by Teddy in Neighbors; Tracy Flick in Election)

Stories can even have multiple Opponents.  Usually one character will be the primary Opponent, but there can be others.  In There’s Something About Mary, Healy (Matt Dillon) is the primary Opponent to Ted’s goal of being with Mary, but Tucker and Dom are also getting in the way as they compete for her affections as well. 

For a further explanation and more examples, check out our tutorial on Opponent.

Other Characters

Other Characters covers additional roles that are needed in your story. They can have a range of screen time and relevance to the narrative, but are more important than (and generally have more screen time than) Minor Characters.  They can be thought of as “medium level” characters. 

In The Matrix, Tank, Apoc, Mouse, Switch, and Dozer are all Other Characters.  In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Beth (Elizabeth Banks), Paula (Jane Lynch), and Marla (Kat Dennings) fall under this category. 

Minor Characters

Minor Character have minimal screen time and have little importance to the story as a whole, but are necessary for a scene’s execution.  You will be able to assign them a name but no other Character Elements.  Usually it’s best to name them for the role they are fulfilling.  Examples: “Waitress,” “Guy on Street,” “Clubgoer,” or “Tall Police Officer.”

Minor Characters can be added any time after the Characters Phase has been completed, because the Characters Phase focuses on more important characters.  Minor Characters will not have all of the Character Element choices that the rest of the character types have, because they are not necessary and can be confusing if included in the screenplay. 

Characters in Television and Webseries

It can be argued that in Television and Webseries even more attention must be paid to Characters because the audience will be with them every week (or installment).  And they should enjoy doing so!  

In a show like Friends, the overall focus of the series is not what will happen in terms of plot – instead the audience is coming back each week to spend time with Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey.

Open Screenplay Character Options - Television and Webseries

Characters in Open Screenplays for Television and Webseries function similar to those listed above for Film, with a few distinctions.  In these formats you’ll have the ability to create or contribute to:

Series Protagonist(s)
Series Influencing Character(s)
Series Opponent(s)
Series Other Characters
Episode Characters
Recurring Characters

Like Film, you’ll be to contribute Minor Characters in television and webseries after the Character Phase is complete.

Series Protagonist Character(s)

The Series Protagonist is the hero, primary character, or focus of a television show or webseries. If a series has a single Series Protagonist, the show will focus on that character’s experience or adventures (Louie, Monk, Nancy Botwin in Weeds).  Ensemble series will have multiple Series Protagonists (Friends, The Wire).  

Keep in mind that, like Film Open Screenplays, if your TV Open Screenplay is not an ensemble, it can only have one Protagonist.

Series Influencing Character(s)

These are the character or characters that are with the Protagonist along the primary adventure for the run of series and also will usually help change the Series Protagonist’s Character Flaw throughout each episode.  They are often a friend, sidekick, mentor, associate, coworker, love interest or otherwise relevant relation to the Series Protagonist.  A Series Influencing Character will be with the Series Protagonist in most episodes but the Series Influencing Character will not be the focus of the show, and for the most part we will not follow their point of view (Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Wilfred in Wilfred).

Series Opponent Character(s)

The Series Opponent stands in the way of the Series Protagonist’s main goal, more than other characters.  This individual will be the primary source of conflict throughout the run of the show, placing obstacles in the way of the Series Protagonist in most episodes  (Gul Dukat/The Cardassians in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Kelso in Scrubs).

Series Other Characters

Series Other Characters are covers additional roles that are important to the series. They can have a range of screen time and importance to the narrative (Sally Draper in Mad Men, Bulldog Briscoe in Frasier).

Episode Characters

A character that appears in a single episode of a series but does not return. They can have a range of screen time and importance to the narrative. Often a “Special Guest Star” will denote an Episode Character (Ian McShane as Brother Ray in Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 7, Rob Schneider as Bob in Seinfeld Season 7 Episode 17).

Recurring Characters

Characters that appear more than once over the course of a series, but are not in every episode.  (Leslie Winkle, Zack, and Stephen Hawking in The Big Bang Theory, Pepper Saltzman, Frank Dunphy, and DeDe Pritchett in Modern Family).

Another Way Characters Work in Ensembles or Television

It’s important to note that any Open Screenplay with multiple storylines will require Characters to be assigned for each storyline.  When you add a Character to a storyline, you’ll be asked to label that Character as Protagonist, Influencing, Opponent, or Other.  Each Storyline must have at least one Protagonist.  Note that any one character can be part of multiple storylines, and can have a different character assignment in each. 

For example, in a theoretical episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted could be the Protagonist for Storyline A, and also be the Influencing Character for Storyline B, and also be the Opponent for Storyline C.  OR he could be the Protagonist for ALL THREE of the storylines.

For a further explanation and more examples, check out our tutorial on Storylines.

Potential Characters

“But what if I want to add characters after the Character Phase has finished?”  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!  In the Story Outline, Scene Outline, and Script Phases you will be able to keep suggesting characters, but in the form of Potential Characters.

Potential Characters include all the other types of characters described above, but will be labeled “Potential” until the completion of the phase you introduce them in.  You will create these characters and use them in your Story Outline, Scene Outline, or Script contributions, which will then be voted on.  If your Story Outline, Scene Outline, or Script contribution gets voted-in, then the Potential Character included in those contributions becomes part of the screenplay. 

When adding a Potential Character, some of the Character Elements will be required.  They are:

  • Potential Protagonist: Name, Gender, Age, Character Flaw
  • Potential Influencing, Opponent, or Other Character: Name, Gender, Age
  • Potential Minor Character: Name, Gender, Age

Other Users will not be able to contribute other suggestions to these elements.  All other Character Elements for Potential Characters are optional – fill them in if you wish.

Summary of Characters Availability in Each Phase

Here is a summary of the availabilities of character types in each phase of Open Screenplay development:

FILM:

Character Phase

Story Outline Phase

Scene Outline Phase

Script Phase

Protagonist

Influencing Character

Opponent

Other Characters

Potential Protagonist

Potential Influencing Character

Potential Opponent

Potential Other Character

Potential Minor Character

Potential Minor Characters

Potential Minor Characters

Character Phase

Story Outline Phase

Protagonist

Influencing Character

Opponent

Other Characters

Potential Protagonist

Potential Influencing Character

Potential Opponent

Potential Other Character

Potential Minor Character

Scene Outline Phase

Script Phase

Potential Minor Characters

Potential Minor Characters

TV/Webseries:

Character Phase

Story Outline Phase

Scene Outline Phase

Form Phase

Script Phase

Series Protagonist

Series Influencing Character

Series Opponent

Series Other Characters

Episode Characters

Recurring Characters

Potential Protagonist

Potential Influencing Character

Potential Opponent

Potential Other Character

Potential Minor Character

Potential Minor Characters

No characters can be submitted

Potential Minor Characters

Character Phase

Story Outline Phase

Series Protagonist

Series Influencing Character

Series Opponent

Series Other Characters

Episode Characters

Recurring Characters

Potential Protagonist

Potential Influencing Character

Potential Opponent

Potential Other Character

Potential Minor Character

Scene Outline Phase

Form Phase

Script Phase

Potential Minor Characters

No characters can be submitted

Potential Minor Characters

A Note on Naming Characters

In Open Screenplay you will be able to suggest a Character Name and also the Screenplay Display Name. The Character Name is the full name of the character.  The Screenplay Display Name is shorter and is the name you want the reader to associate with your character. This is used for simplicity and fluidity when reading a screenplay.

Example:

Character Name: John C. Smith
Screenplay Display Name: could appear as “John,” “Smith,” or “Mr. Smith.”

When choosing Screenplay Display Names for various characters, try not to choose names that are too close to each other, either in spelling or sound.  They will create confusion for the reader.

Examples:

Dawn and Don are the same sound, and sound similar to John and Tom as well.
Marie, Frankie, Johnny, Larry all end with the ‘ee’ sound.
Samantha, Cindy, Simone, Charlotte all start with the “ess” sound.
Johnny and Danny are spelled similarly.

Try to give the characters names that vary in appearance and sound. 

Example:

Mary, Fiona, Dan, Cynthia, George, Leon

Character names can be a lot of fun – enjoy.