Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Creating Characters Grounded in Reality

Issa Rae

Lesson time 11:07 min

Issa shows you the best ways to start developing characters and dialogue that are relatable and realistic.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Mining Your Life for Material · Approaching Characters Different Than You · Real Talk: Authentic Dialogue


[MUSIC PLAYING] FEMALE: There ain't shit on this menu. - I'll be your private dancer. Some people are just really interesting to me. And that search for interesting people comes from the friends that I've made, you know, or the friends that I didn't choose, like my siblings, you know. And I think about-- I think about writing them all the time. Like, if you're with a writer, if you're friends with a writer, know that they're constantly mining your life for material. And especially as a humor writer, I love to find the funny in situations. So if my friend is telling me a story and it resonates with me, best believe I'm going to, like, bank that in my mind. Also just in interacting with strangers-- there's certain things when I'm meeting someone for the first time, and I'm having an out of body experience witnessing our interaction or listening to this person, like, I'm mining those moments for material. And it's not always intentional. It's mostly not intentional, but some moments stick with you, some characteristics of certain people stick with you. And like I said, I tend to write from a place of what's wrong with me? What's wrong with them? And when I answer those two questions, then I feel like I have the makings of either a conflict or a character dynamic that I might fall in love with. [MUSIC PLAYING] If you take all the money and production value away from "Insecure," "Awkward Black Girl" is very similar in that it focuses on characters, which I think is fundamental to any show. Like, you have to have strong characters who are very specific. I think that is the commonality between the two shows is that you have-- that is the foundation, at the end of the day. Like, I started with, oh, this character is awkward and black. And in the Venn diagram of "Insecure" and "Awkward Black Girl," that trait is in the middle for both characters. The fundamental difference between "Awkward Black Girl," and "Insecure" was with "Awkward Black Girl," it was very internal, and it was more about, these are the things that make me awkward. But it wasn't really a character study. And I wasn't really thinking about character development. I wasn't thinking about a story arc. I was just making something that was situational and creating it, just because I was desperate to get this character out there. And I really just saw it as more of a series of humorous sketches. I never really envisioned it as an entire series. With "Insecure," I was able to do a character study by having a series of long conversations with Larry Wilmore that I didn't know were being mined for my life and the character. He asked me questions about my relationship, whether I'd been in love, whether I was in love, what some of my insecurities were, my flaws. He dug into my friendships, what made us friends, what made me a good friend. My past work experience-- everything I'd been through that was worth sharing for me, and I was, like, picking and choos...

About the Instructor

The Emmy-nominated star and creator of the award-winning HBO series Insecure is here to show you how it’s done. Issa Rae uses her signature do-it-yourself ethos, humor, and voice to offer writers and creators of all types the motivation and tools they’ll need on their journey. Issa shares how she has navigated Hollywood while Black and inspires you to reach your creative dreams and never take no for an answer.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Issa Rae

Emmy-nominated writer, actor, and producer Issa Rae teaches you how to bring your creative vision to life.

Explore the Class
Sign Up