How To Write Three Dimensional Characters – Shannan E. Johnson

Film Courage: What steps can a writer take to make a three-dimensional character?

Writer/Instructor and Script Consultant Shannan E. Johnson (The Professional Pen): Oh good! I think you’ve got to start thinking about who they are physically, emotionally, and socially. You’ve got to figure out:

*What their vulnerabilities are;

*What their flaws are;

*What they’re good at;

*What they’re not good at;

*What their insecurities are.

We’re motivated by our insecurities. People do things because they are trying to feed whatever hole is on the inside of them. I do a whole trauma and stress lesson during my No Writer’s Block course. Because everyone of us has a trauma even if your trauma may seem small to me and my trauma may seem small to you. We each have a trauma and on some level that trauma created our insecurities and our insecurity is what feeds us, that’s our motivation.

I always give the example of the characters in the Wizard of Oz. Because the lion is cowardly he says If I can get Dorothy to Oz the I am NOT a coward because what I have to go through makes me brave. It’s not because he really cares about Dorothy, he really wants to take her to Oz, you know what I mean? It’s because he’s a coward and so at some point he has to decide Okay, in order to be brave and get rid of the cowardly stuff and I’ve got to go through something that gets me there.

That’s the thing that motivates him to actually do the external thing so that internal thing is really the motivator for the external thing. I feel like that is true for people and if we realize that about people then we realize that about characters and that’s how they get depth and become more believable.

Film Courage: If we go back to Harry Potter, what are some of his wounds that show up?

Shannan: His biggest wound is identity. He is not being raised by his parents so that is in and of itself going to be a trauma whether you knew it…he knew…he always knew that these were not his parents. That is something that has always been inside of him all of the time. Some people don’t find that information out until later and then the trauma starts, right? But for him he always knew These are not my people. 

On top of that the people who were raising him were mistreating him and abusing him so that is a second trauma. On top of that, he’s a weirdo who can…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).






About Shannan:

After grad school I became a junior creative executive at NBCUniversal at the Syfy Channel. I was there for the rebrand. Remember Sci Fi? Yeah, not really. Anywho, it was my job to help writers and producers take their ideas from pitch to production. I co-exec’d on Alphas, Being Human, Haven, Sanctuary, Warehouse 13, and more Syfy dramedies. This is how I honed my skill in all stages of the screenwriting process…(read more here).

Like this video? Please subscribe to our Youtube channel. Or love this video and want more? You can show additional support via our Youtube sponsor tab or through Patreon.

Advertisement – contains affiliate links:

Your script only has one chance to make a first impression. As a writer you have lots of choices, such as, character names, title, genre, pacing etc. However, when it is time to have your script professionally analyzed there is only one choice, Scriptapalooza Coverage. Our analysts have been helping writers’ careers since 1999.

In Jason Innocent’s independent documentary film Masculinity he interviews both men and women as they give their thoughts on assumptions, and pressures of being a man. Masculinity covers what it means to be a man today, female masculinity, toxic masculinity, and the pressures of society on the definition of manliness.

Solicitude – A crisp, cinematic 96-second short film on mental health (depression, loneliness, suicide) and what each one of us could do to CHANGE it.  In times of quarantine and remote work, mental health has become essential. Writer/actor Uday Krishna’s Solicitude spotlights mental health, depression, and suicide with a positive ending on how all of us can improve within our own network. Uday along with Christina Perez (the director, editor, background score) and Emmanuel Vega (DOP, Lights) shot this short in three hours using one location.