Hi There,

With the various scripts I have been reading / working on / watching recently, I have been thinking a lot about what makes for successful, compelling characterisations. There is so much wonderful stuff on TV at the moment and three of the characters that have stood out for me in my viewing over the last few weeks have been – Suranne Jones as Ann Lister in Gentleman Jack by Sally Wainwright; Daisy Haggard as Miri in Back To Life by Daisy Haggard & Laura Solon; and Stephen Graham as Joseph in The Virtues by Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne. All three characters feel unique, charismatic, hugely conflicted and absolutely compelling.

Here is the description of a character who came out of a ‘Creativity’ course I ran recently – created out of an observation of a real person in the concourse of Euston station!

‘Isaac – an orthodox Jewish man in his mid-40’s. Dresses in traditional Jewish clothes. On the day in question he was walking around carrying more boxes than he could manage, in a sweaty, anxious state. Isaac works in his father’s longstanding, traditional hat shop in Golders Green and hates it. His father looks down on him and has always chipped away at Isaac’s self-esteem. Isaac is not good at the job and has no real interest in it. Isaac is single and very private. He is not happy. But what Isaac is good at it is gambling. He is obsessed with gambling and has a real flair for it. It is an addiction but it’s one he is in control of – and over the last few years he has made a very decent income from his secret gambling that has supplemented the paltry income he makes in his father’s milliners.’

I’m very interested in this character too – his secrets and inner conflicts are instantly engaging.

It seems to me that we can never do enough thinking about our characters and how we define them. I have compiled two slightly different lists below – of questions you can ask about your characters. In the first list, none of these qualities are absolute – but I hope all are useful in helping you assess the particular proclivities and qualities of the characters you’re creating. Above all, it seems to me that the really compelling characters are often those who are going through the knottiest internal (and external) struggles. So if your character is an introvert, force them to make an important public speech; if they’re rich, force them into a world of poverty; if they’re urban, transport them to the countryside! Etc etc


Introvert – extrovert 

Active – passive 

Gentle – aggressive

Covetous / bitter – philosophical/ accepting

Open / secretive

Rich /poor

Materialistic / thrifty

Honest / dishonest

Cruel / kind

Solitary / gregarious 

Indulgent/ self-denying

Knowledgeable / ignorant

Scared / bold

Urban / rural

Articulate / tongue-tied

Snob / person of the people

Anxious / relaxed

Self-assured / full of doubt

Religious / sceptical 

Carnivore / vegan

Drinker / teetotaller 

Fashionable / dowdy

Graceful / clumsy

Athletic / out of shape

Beautiful / ugly

Humorous / serious 

Funny / no sense of humour

Conservative / socialist

Patriot / internationalist

Royalist / republican

Sporty / studious 

Old / young

Greedy / charitable 

Fast / slow (mentally & physically)

Loving / hateful 

Animal lover / animal hater

Neat / a mess

Superficial / deep

Sly / open

Conventional / unconventional 

Slim / obese

Tall / short

Smiley / grim-faced

Short fuse / calm

Over-sexed / asexual 

Heterosexual / gay

High-status / low status

Hirsute / bald

Penetrating stare / avoids eye contact 

Energetic / sloth- like

Ambitious / unambitious 

Bully / victim

Employer / employed

Employed / unemployed 

Corporate / freelance

Brazen / discreet

Wind-up merchant / tactful 

Superstitious / rational

Challenging / conciliatory 

Meticulous / spontaneous 

Organised / chaotic

Sociable / unfriendly 

Academic / pragmatic 

Predictable / mercurial 

Ordinary / eccentric 

Vain / unselfish-conscious 

Healthy / ill

Carer / cared for

Patient / impatient

Tolerant / intolerant 

Original / derivative 

Happy / sad

Arrogant / humble


Where are they from?

Where do they live?

House/ flat / caravan / barge etc  + details of their home

Is their house cluttered or minimalist?

What is their job?

What is their height/size?

Who do they live with?

Who do they love?

Who do they hate?

Do they have pet/s?

Do they vote? Who for?

What do they eat/drink?

Where do they shop?

What newspaper do they read?

What is their sexual orientation / proclivities?

What do they wear?

What colours do they wear?

What shoes do they wear?

How do they wear their hair?

Who are they close to?

Who are their friends?

What are their interests/hobbies?

What / Who are they afraid of?

What makes them laugh?

What makes them happy / sad?

What do they watch on TV?

What mode of transport do they use?

Do they have a car? What sort?

What is their religion?

What is their ethnicity?

What public figures do they most admire / hate?

Who would be their 4 dream dinner party guests?

What are their secrets?

What secret habits do they have? Who do they tell their secrets to?

What accent do they have?

What is their significant family history?

TRIBUTE Series 2

I’m still working my way through the many excellent scripts – sorry it’s taking me longer than I expected but I haven’t forgotten about this and will get back to you once I’ve finished all the scripts – which won’t be for a few more weeks, I’m afraid.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 14th,

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 31st 2019