Character Outline: What I Learned From Screen Writing

ScriptI am very fond of online learning. Mostly because being a stay-at-home parent leaves me little time to learn any other way. Enter FutureLearn, a massive online learning platform with free content. I’ve taken several classes through FL, including an Introduction to Forensic Science, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Genealogy, and Beginning Fiction. Now I’m taking a 2-week course on Screen Writing.

This class has given me a new appreciation for planning (I’m a  pantser) and the benefit of outlining. Not creating an outline is fine for shorter works, something I’m very fond of, but I also want to write books, and then adapt those books into screenplays. A pipe dream, perhaps, but a dream I am working towards nonetheless.

The Screenwriting course has asked me to share a character profile from either an existing movie or from something I’m working on. I chose to continue the story I initially shared with the class about a young girl at odds with her fanatical religious faith and the last wishes of her gay, older brother whom she loved unconditionally.

List the character’s major actions. Start at the end and work backward. (Don’t analyze how or why; just create a list of actions.)

  • Leaves her mother’s house along with it, religious fanaticism
  • Evades local police as she scatters her brother’s ashes
  • Steals her brother’s ashes
  • Poses as her mother and changes her brother’s funeral to a cremation
  • Mourns the death of her brother
  • Visits her brother regularly against her mother’s wishes

Analyze the list to reveal the character’s wants and needs. Is the character aware of what they want?

  • She knows she wants to fulfill her brother’s dying wishes, but not that she’s through with her religion.

Describe how the character thinks and look at his or her basic psychology. Intelligent? Intellectually engaged? Cognitive Biases? Impulsive? Cautious?

  • Ashley is a smart kid. Bullied by her religion. Doesn’t question things. When she spends time with her brother who has left their faith, she is forced to confront the hatred her faith hides behind. As her journey progresses and she meets more people outside her bubble, she begins to see the flaws more clearly in her world outlook.

Describe the character’s superficial effect. How might a casual acquaintance describe them?

  • At the beginning of the story, Ashely is self-conscious, shy, and devout. Someone outside would see her as plain and quiet. By the end, she is more confident and worldly.

List any important physical characteristics

  • Brown hair, hazel eyes, large birthmark on her forearm.

10-Finger Pitch – Road to Zion (working title)

Genre: Drama/Dark Comedy

Main Protagonist: 18-year-old Ashley Michaels, struggling with mother’s religious zeal, and the death of her beloved older brother.

Goal: To scatter her gay brother’s ashes along the road trip route they had planned before he passed away.

Significance: Looks deeply into the struggle between religious zealotism and the love of those who don’t fall in line with religious doctrine.

1st Half of 2nd Act: Ashely planned to scatter her brother’s ashes, but their mom decided to have him buried instead. Posing as her mother, Ashley changes the funeral orders, and has him cremated, then steals the ashes.

Midpoint: The more people Ashley meets, the more she begins to question her religious faith.

2nd Half: Ashley’s mother, knowing the road trip route, notifies police in each city that her daughter has stolen her brother’s urn.

Climax: After dodging the cops along her route, Ashley makes it to their final destination where she’s caught and arrested. 6 months later she is released, and picked up from jail by her brother’s boyfriend.

Pitch: 18-year-old Ashley Michaels is stricken by the death of her beloved older brother, Steven. Their mother, a religious zealot who disapproved of Steven’s life as a gay man, has gone against his last wishes. Ashley, at odds with her mother’s religious beliefs and the love of her brother, decides to steal his urn in order to scatter his ashes along their planned road trip route. It’s a trip they had planned since they were kids.

Photo credit:

36:365 by Chris Tse via Flickr Creative Commons License

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady is an award-winning freelance writer and co-owner of the book review website, She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. Cynthia has her BA in English Literature from Sonoma State University, and her Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. Occasionally, Cynthia can be found voicing characters in casual video games, including Stella in the Aveyond series. She is presently working on a young adult fantasy novel.

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