Character Trees - OFFICIAL DISCUSSION


#21

I think @Nick is right-- you’re probably thinking of D.I.D. I think the best course of action is to do some research into it and see how people with DID experience it themselves. If you’re writing someone with a disorder, it’s always best to consult someone who is willing to talk about it (and compensate them for their time, maybe buy them lunch or coffee!) I bet they would have a much more interesting answer than we would! (When writing a character that lives with mental disorders or disabilities, it’s always a writer’s job to do that character justice and represent that disability in a responsible way!)


#22

Going for a slice of life or the beauty of every day life story
any advice would be much appreated
Feet: Things you can see
Semi short 5’4”
Small stature 135ibs
College student
Semi toxics family
Constantly put down by mother
The clothes he wears are too large
Black hair
Brown Black eyes
Very durable shoes
Groin: Wants and desires
Enjoys order & system
Like having the ability to do things
Wants to understand the world
Desires the freedom to chose
Currently tied to bills work and school
To be liked
Heart: Thing and habits that are needed in order make them function
Is critical to a fault both internal and external environment
Achievement weather construction or destruction.
Control
Not afraid of being wrong but afraid of not knowing why is it wrong
Throat: How does the character present themselves
Is constantly annoyed
Slouches
Lacks confidence
Self analyzes frequently
Total disregard for social norms
Watches movies for the gadgets not the story line
Can be super passionate sometimes
Always has odd ideas
Doesn’t pick up social cues very well
Left cheek: Type of rationality
Average intelligences
Sturbon
Extremely logical (tries to get to the bottom of things)
Not emotional
Right cheek: Etics and Soul
Utilitarian to the max
Tries to suppress emotions
Artist at heart

ZestyKiller


#23

Sorry if this was asked, but are character trees necessary if you have a minor supporting character–especially for short films?


#24

I think they are not “necessary” to begin with. But they are a tool for you to build a character or make it easier for you to write dialogue that is true to character. For a small role it may not be worth the trouble but for a bigger character or might help you to write a story that works through the different character dynamics.

Tl;Dr use them if it helps you.


#25

Jasper’s on point. I really want to stress, however, that knowing how to fill out a character’s whole tree is about making that character believable, coherent, and well-motivated across everything they do: their speech, their actions, their preferences, and the way in which they change and evolve throughout your story.

I’m not a screenwriter, so I’ll tag in @Matt and @ShotBotWill on this, but my guess is that you’d want to flesh out a full character tree for any character that you wish to be “round,” i.e., every character that needs to have depth, and who needs to evolve and develop over the course of your story.

Matt and Will, what’s the official word on when you’d heavily recommend character trees vs. suggest skipping out on the extra effort?


#26

Whether or not actually use the “character tree” is of course a preference. It is just a tool to help perform a specific step in development. However, that step is more or less an necessary one. The reason to make a character tree is not even to come up with all these details that you will actually put in a story, its an exercise to help you figure out the character. For example, it would be very easy for you to write about your own mother or sibling. Because you have already done their character tree in your head. You know everything about them, and you can naturally write dialog that sounds like, know what they would or would not do, understand what would be a difficult decision for them and why.

A character tree is a way to help you KNOW your character. And it never hurts to do it, because you may think you know your character, but after trying to write a character tree you realize you dont. It helps keep you honest and objective which is a blessing for a process so ambiguous and internal.


#27

With regards specifically to minor characters, I would say it’s always a good idea to have some idea of who your character is but obviously you don’t have to go as in depth as you would with a central protagonist or antagonist. Just a few key details can really make a minor character pop instead of feeling generic.

Joss Whedon actually had a really good rule of thumb with Buffy where he always wanted to know what every character in a scene was doing there, and who they were as people, at least on some level - ie, no faceless “goons” or henchmen that just exist as empty extensions of the villain.

You’d be surprised what kind of fun stuff you can come up with to play in a scene even by asking some really basic questions about your supporting / “throwaway” characters! For example, I adore the minor character work in this scene from The Big Lebowski:

Pay attention to the two cops in this scene. They never show up again, this is their only moment. They are arguably the least important characters in the story. But the Coen brothers make them both really feel like actual people with distinct personalities and the scene is SOOOO much better for it! This could have easily been two generic, bog-standard “cop characters” but the specific details set them apart. The white cop is polite, concerned, a little effeminate. His partner clearly thinks the Dude is sketchy as hell (I love him eyeing the Dude’s weed paraphenalia on the table with disdain) - he only has one line in the scene (“or the Creedence.”) but it says everything about him and what he thinks of the Dude. Again, this isn’t stuff that necessarily is crucial to the advancement of the plot - but the extra detail and specificity makes an otherwise unremarkable scene very funny and enjoyable.


#28

Wow, I wrote a lot.

Fish Thomson

Feet - Appearance and general info
-Not conventionally attractive, or really attractive at all. She has big, bulging eyes and a long face. Her yellow hair is very thin and flat, her nose is long and squished, and her lips are almost non-existent.
-Because of her appearance, she tends to look downright creepy when she isn’t smiling.
-She wears white gloves almost all the time, as well as polka dot tights (tan with brown dots), a skirt (honey-yellow), and a shirt (usually a dark color). Shoes are optional.
-Muscles
-She’s about 17-18 years old, living with her older sister. Her parents aren’t around a lot, but she doesn’t get along with them, so she doesn’t mind.
-Wants to be a park ranger

Groin - Wants and impulses
-Fish wants many friends that she can be open with.
-She wants her friends and family to be happy
-She wants to be comfortable with herself and the image of herself that she shows to the world
-She tends to just say what she thinks people want to hear rather than what she actually thinks
-doesn’t know when it’s ok to lie and when to be genuine, she lies a lot, but has a fairly good memory, so she’s rarely caught in a lie unless it’s obvious
-doesn’t always think things through, acts on instinct 85% of the time
-feels like she can’t express her emotions
-loves nature and rock climbing

Heart - What they need to function
-Her sister is her main pillar of support. Her sister has most of her shit together and so can help Fish, whose shit is strewn across the continent. Fish also can’t lie very well to her sister, so there’s no real point to trying to put up a mask of happiness. Her sister does not approve of Fish’s acting, but she was also there before Fish started, and knows how unhappy she was with no social circle.
-Fish’s friends are very important to her. She may not feel like she can emotionally open up to them, but she loves them all the same, and will fight anyone that tries to mess with them. Because she had so much trouble making friends when she was younger, she cherishes the few friends she has now, even when she gets real tired of acting happy all the time.
-She needs to open up more with her friends. Rejection sucks, but if they reject her, they weren’t really her friends to begin with, and she is utterly terrified of that.

Throat - How they project themselves
-acts as open and expressive as possible
-always smiling and telling jokes
-wants to be a person that people like to be around
-loud

Left Cheek - Thinking
-Fish is not very book smart. She doesn’t learn all that well in a classroom (tends to zone out or get distracted, so her good memory doesn’t help her much there), but she gets by without too much trouble if she studies at home, especially if her sister is around to help explain the homework.
-Goes by what feels right rather than by what’s logical
-Likes simple solutions

Right Cheek - Ethics and creativity
-Doesn’t have much reservation when it comes to lying
-Doesn’t understand art art (thinks it’s silly to try to find meaning in art, “the painter just chucked a paint can at the canvass. I could do that.”), but likes looking at pretty things, like paintings of people and nature and such

Crown - Archetypes
Joker, Extrovert, Putting on a Show


#29

This is great, I can tell a lot about this character already!


#30

so im in the process of writing a script for a story about 2 spies going on a blind date. here goes :
Catherine:
Feet-average height with short hair. Has confirmed kills, hasn’t been in a real relationship in years

Groin- She wants to be happy outside of work but struggles to balance the 2. Tends to blurt things out when in a social setting, just wants to be normal.

Heart- acceptance and patience, she tries too hard to be liked outside of work and as a result pushes people away by being overbearing.

Throat- when it comes to her work or something she is really passionate about she has a quiet confidence and she beams, social settings and dealing with people on a more intimate level shows her awkward side

Right cheek- kind, well intentioned and good at reading people

Left cheek- looks at the facts, likes working through things in a straight forward manner.

Crown- just a girl trying to balance her passion and work with a social life.

Michael: Feet- looks quite plain, does not have the look of a spy. new to the espionage game, just started his first assignment.

Groin- trying to find his place in the world. Is trying to find love to go along with his career success.

Heart-experience, his entire life has been straight forward. He needs to struggle and fail to continue to grow.

Throat- Does not act like a dominating presence, an alpha, but is willing to speak up when necessary.

Right cheek- can be impulsive. Tries to be honest and forthright but sometimes he can’t help but be passive aggressive and petty.

Left brain- tries to work through a problem from multiple angles, he realizes that things are not always as they seem.

Crown-He’s an everyman. He is reliable and good natured, or at the very least he’s good at convincing others that he is.


#31

This character tree is about a real life person who lives a mediocre life because he has to keep his criminal life secret. He was supposed to be locked up in prison for life but he got out just after 7 years. He makes 1 million+ a month and is forced to hide it. He supposedly lives in fresno california. His street name is G.
G:
Feet:
40ish year old male Vietnamese. Has bullet scars on the right side of his chest and neck. Intimidating, Relatively built, deep eyes that can read a person and their history, no facial hair. wears an old gold (cultural type) ring. Basic (generic brand) clothes. Modern day drug lord but keeps it on the DL. pretends to be unemployed but he launders money through gambling. Crazy street smart, self educated, self made, go getter, entrepreneur mindset, thinking one step ahead. No kids or family. Calm and cool headed, even in the most frustrating situations. take charge mentality in secret, i know my place in society personality in public, slight sense of humor. Has a strong two way trust relationship with his friends. Became more hard working and determined to get what he wants after he got out of jail. mystery man (because he got out of jail in 7 years when it was supposed to be for life). Real name unknown. Grew up in Vietnam for first 13 years as a drug slave working on a small scale drug lab owned by Americans. He has an incident where he stands up to one of them wanting to be paid for his work and kills the authority figure. This event made him stronger, more decisive, and always keeps him alert if he needs to make another quick decision like he did before, left a scar on his personality and never allowed him to have a normal childhood. Has a gambling problem
Legs:
Has an impulsive need to succeed and make more money. Wants a family or a connection to someone that he lacked as a child. Shows salutary neglect to other authority figures because he never had one growing up. Wants to keep a low profile. Stuck in an existential crisis and wants things to distract him from this (gambling addiction). Wants closure for what happened to his parents. Wants peace and quiet. Wants justice for anyone who wrongs anyone. Wants the truth about his family, himself, and the world. Wants to leave his routine of hiding his secret life and living like a homeless person. Wants to release his repressed emotions as a child.
Heart:
Secretly and subconsciously needs his friends (runners). Needs to feel successful but is never able to reach it. Needs to feel like a kid again but just doesn’t allow himself to do that. He speaks more freely with children than adults. Needs to feel like he is doing something with purpose. Wants to understand whether happiness is something that he can give himself or approval of others (because the world always says that you don’t need other people’s approval to be happy, you just have to love what you do) he loves what he does, but feels like because the people in his life don’t know about it, they will never know what he does for them and his efforts will never be appreciated.
Throat:
Broad posture when with adults, on his left knee with his hands on his right knee when with kids. Always has grandiose entrances and presents his thoughts and ideas flawlessly with a welcoming, yet intimidating tone. has a soft voice. His face communicates most of his ideas without any dialogue
Left Brain:
Very rational and smart. Sherlock homes type articulation. Able to tell a lot about a person just by the way they look because of his street smarts. Knows his businesses stats, numbers, and percentages by heart. Also knows statistics of other businesses, events, or places in the world. Able to do advanced math in his head unnaturally quickly without any help or education (self taught). Thinks before he speaks, (hesitates) and always says something metaphorical or philosophical. Tends to sometimes speak in alliteration. Acts based on what he believes is the most rational and logical way to do things (efficient) but always has backup plans because he has little trust in others (cautious). Doesn’t think of simple solutions to problems, thinks of strategies to problems and always stays several steps ahead of others in a short amount of time.
Right Brain:
Believes that morals and ethics are all relative based on the person. doesn’t believe in an intellectual hierarchy of organisms. Believes in (all or none) all organisms have a soul and all life is sacred, or no organisms have a soul and no life is sacred. Breaks down grey situations into black and white. Loves music but doesn’t see any appeal in visual arts. Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. 100% nurture over nature. Blocked from expressing emotion after he killed the drug kitchen owner. Likes black and white over color.
Crown:
Emotionally broken person made strong and smart by his experiences and motive to find meaning and love in life.


#32

Thank you @mattyarnold and Will Campos! This video was great and helped me understand how to really flesh out the foundation of a character.

Recently watched the Godfather for the first time ever, so here’s my character tree for Michael Corleone (Please feel free to critique)

Michael Corleone – Godfather Part 1

Feet [Phenotype] – Physical Characteristics and facts
• Young, very handsome, tan skin, thick hair, brown eyes, short, very stoic
• Lives in New York. Went to Dartmouth College, dropped out, and enlisted in marines during World War 2.

Groin [Want] – Impulses, Needs, Wants & Desires
• Michael needs to be with Kay. He desires not to be a part of the family business. Sexually, he is very loving and caring. Michael is monogamous and doesn’t fool around on the side. He is much like his father. He takes care of his loved ones.
• His deadly sins are pride and wrath. His pride manifests after his father’s attempted assassination and he must prove to himself and his family he can be a part of the “family business.” Michael’s second sin is his wrath. He does not let any slight pass him. Anyone who crosses him or his family, he will take revenge, even if it is a family member.

Heart [Needs] – What they need to become a better person
• For Michael to be a better person, he shouldn’t be associated with the Corleone family. He already tried doing this by going to college and enlisting in the army. If he married Kay and stayed with her instead of becoming involved in the family business, he would be a more functional person.

Throat [Voice] – Posture, Presentation, Affectation
• Michael is calm, composed, and charming. He stands straight and strong. He projects himself as a person in control.

Left Cheek [Logical Capacity] – Logic, Methodology, “Left Brain”
• Michael is highly intelligent, logical, and smart. Even more, he has a great sense of empathy; he can fit himself into his enemies shoes. His logical capacity manifests itself after his father’s attempted assassination and he plans the revenge murder of Virgil Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey.

Right Cheek [Artistic Capacity] - Ethics, soul, “right brain”
• Michael’s artistic capacity manifests in his ability to find a way for a plan to work. It’s unpractical because he doesn’t care about the people he will hurt, even if it’s his family. (Murdering Carlo, his sister’s husband.) Michael’s spirituality comes from his Roman Catholic background.

Crown [The Full Psyche] – Who Are they
• The prodigal son


#33

I’m fairly new to writing so Ive given my best shot on my character of an animated TV show idea Ive had brewing in my mind for a while.


ACT on INSTINCT
Name: Oscar Greenthorn

FEET:

• 19 year old
• Short Black hair
• Blue eyes
• Born into a hardworking farm-family
• Can communicate with his dog, Susie
• Had a strict and harsh upbringing
• Got punished by his father often
• Joined the Australian army reserves after his family was killed
• Treats Susie as one would treat a best friend and not as something he owns

GROIN:

• Wants Susie to be safe
• Wants to keep his squad mates alive
• Wants to have a leader that is competent
• For Susie to be completely free to choose for herself
• For no barrier to come between them understanding one another
• Wants everyone to take him and Susie seriously
• Repressed

HEART:

• Be a leader
• Needs to let his pent-up emotions out
• Feel like he has a purpose/role
• Needs companionship
• Needs “some action”
• Open up more with the squad
• Stop dwelling on the past and what could have been and focus on the present

THROAT:

• There when he needs to be
• Anxious
• Hardened farm-boy
• “Combat suggestive”
• Wants specifics
• Sensitive (with Susie)
• Out-going (with Susie)
• Eager (with Susie)
• Affectionate (with Susie)
• Witty (with Susie)

LEFT CHEEK:

• Resourceful
• Takes precautions

RIGHT CHEEK:

• When Susie talks to him in a perky attitude, his whole shell peels away exposing a more caring and sensitive center.
• Subconsciously feels and thinks of Susie as the little sister he never had.
• If it came down to it, he’d rather lecture Susie than physically punish her for doing something wrong.
• Would be skeptical of a sparring match between Susie for fear of hurting her but would agree none the less.
• Generally, believes that all appearances mean nothing, having seen firsthand Susie’s potential in the field despite being a cocker spaniel.

CROWN:

All in all, Oscar is the recruit that had no other choice but to join the army. he knows dam well what awaits him but is comforted by the fact that his little childhood friend will always be with him wherever he goes but at the same time haunted by the thought of losing her in the line of fire. With this fear, Oscar wants the squad and leader to be competent in the field, surrounding himself with a no BS shell to only ever come out when Susie tries to bring back the bright playful boy she knew as a puppy.


To be honest with myself, it feels unfinished.
Well what do you guys think of it?


#34

A friend and I are planning a short and only in the idea stage but I put together a tree for the main character. I hope you guys like it. Any criticism would help being its my first attempt.

Richard McMillan

Crown
Uptight police officer looking for the best in the world

Right Brain
-Integrity
-Caring

Left Cheek
-Smart
-Critical Thinker
-Pragmatic

Throat
-Authoritative, Commanding
-subtle sense of humor
-Straight forward

Heart
-Loosen up more
-Go slightly more outside the boundaries

Groin
-Do His job as best he can
-Wants Everyone around him to cooperate
-Puts effort into enjoying his personal life
-To come home safe every night

Feet
-Average height (~5’8”)
-Short, clean cut hair
-5o’ clock shadow
-Dresses cleanly
-Age: Late 20s
-Been a Police officer long enough to know what to do and how to do it, and do it right.
-Has a wife of 4 years


#35

I think you have a clear vision of your character, just make sure that you stick to it as you tell your story. His reactions have to be in accordance with his character, he can’t suddenly change because it serves a scene better.

What is the story going to be like? :slight_smile:


#36

Thanks I’ll keep all that in mind. And I guess a quick summery is a call-in after an officer down, later ends up tracking down a cop killer.