Writing, Arts & Entertainment

Creating Memorable Characters: Part 1

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 18:07 min

Meredith Grey, Olivia Pope, Cristina Yang - Shonda has created some of the most memorable characters to grace television. In this chapter, Shonda breaks down how she approaches the character development process.

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Topics include: Creating Details for Characters • Rethinking Perspective • Case Study: Creating Olivia Pope


I hope what people find in the characters that I write is that they feel truthful, that the vulnerability that they display feels like honest vulnerability-- like it doesn't feel mannered and it doesn't feel fake, and that they say the things that people seem to be afraid to say in public so that you actually feel like you're watching the private lives of actual people. That's the goal for me anyway-- to have characters who seem brave enough to live their lives in front of you so that you think you're getting a peek inside someone's personal life. Otherwise, you're just watching a commercial, almost. Not that there's anything wrong with commercials. We all love them. But you know what I mean. You want to really feel like you're getting an intimate look at someone's personal story. People always ask the question, how do you write such strong, smart women? Which I think is kind of an amazing question, mainly because the alternative is weak, stupid, women. And I don't know any of those. So I don't know. I don't even understand why that question is a question. But I suppose it's a question because people have seen a lot of weak, stupid women on television, which is disturbing. Don't be one of those people who is writing weak, stupid women, please, so that strong, smart women-- those adjectives stop being used-- and it just becomes women. That would be helpful. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think when I'm beginning the character development process, usually I'm thinking about who my character is in terms of first, it's the really basic things. How old are they? What do they do? Where do they live? What's their income level? What's their education level? What kind of family situation are they in and did they come from? And then it becomes things a little bit more interesting, like, if they went to therapy, what would be found? Do you know what I mean? Like, what's their pathos? And also just what don't they know about themselves? What do they need? What do they want? Who are their friends? You know, I try to fill up their lives in a way. There's a little bit of-- I don't know, people probably didn't do this as much as I did, but I spent a lot of time playing imaginary friends when I was little. I played with the cans in my pantry, and I made them little people in little kingdoms. I played with the dolls. Me and my Barbie dolls. And they all had very full rich lives. It's a little bit like that. Like, take somebody and fill up their world. Because otherwise, you just have these sort of stick figures that you're moving around from plot point to plot point, and that's useless and very uninteresting for people to watch. You really want your characters to feel human, to really feel actually human, for people to be so invested in them that they forget that they're not real. You know, I find that it be the biggest com...

About the Instructor

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

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Shonda Rhimes

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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