Chapter 6 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Creating Memorable Characters: Part 1


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.

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

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.

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

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

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

Learn More


Make Great Television

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 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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Shonda will also respond to select student questions.


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

A brilliant and practical approach to writing!

I am really thrilled and very happy about being able to peer into the mind and writing techniques of Rhimes.

I have always thought of myself as a writer and write something everyday. However, most of what I write is non-linear and seemingly unrelated. This class has inspired me to believe that I can actually produce something of value in spite of a late start and a feeling that I don't belong in the room. Gotta re-claim my swagger. Thank you Shonda.

I've learned that I can do it. Rhonda's story is relevant to me in several ways. I am determined to work and so I must actively invite next steps and opportunities.



So I have a question. I want to write a series based on my own life and the protagonist is based on myself...I do agree it's too personal but I don't know if I agree it wont work at all as a series/show. Could I get some feedback on this from other writers?

Denise J.

I can't download the pdf for Lesson 6? I didn't think there was a timelimit on accessing the pdfs?


So much GOLD here Shonda... I can honestly say this module is worth the whole cost of the annual membership... Thank you

Ashley D.

This is my favorite lesson so far! I love talking about creating characters, but the way Shonda explained having compassion for your characters and not physically describing them really resonated with me.

Nia E.

Creating Memorable Characters: Part 1 Loved this lesson. "Fill up the lives of your characters, take somebody and fill up their world. You want them to feel human. " I found some wonderful character sheets that may assist in creating memorable characters. Sheets you can print for free provided by

Gonzalo G.

How are you compassionate with, let’s say, a serial killer, a pedophile, or the like?

Natasha P.

This lesson was invaluable. I've been taught to clearly define the character from body description to ethnicity. I have to retrain my mode of thinking of not writing based off the character I picture in my head. I'm excited for this new mode of developing my characters.

Rose M.

I love Shonda's take on compassion for your characters and never defining your characters by what they look like.

Meghan F.

I believe Shonda's point on casting in a variety of ways is important. I have a physical disability myself; and so I understand how another point of view and diversity is meaningful to viewers. When I see a greater sense of compassion on television, I feel like my voice as a disabled person is heard. Casting in a variety of ways can potentially break down barriers and stereotypes, for actors and for the audience. For example, Micah Fowler on ABC's Speechless has cerebral palsy himself in real life. This inspired many to overcome their disability obstacles. Perception is a funny thing because we can learn so much more if we think like we are in the other person's shoes. If we write for television with greater compassion, more stories and points of views can be heard.

Griffin H.

Lily Kent - 17, tall and muscular, her dad is African-American and her mom is white. She is a highly talented distance medley swimmer, currently ranked 4th in the US (9th globally). She is confident in the water, but insecure about the other parts of her life. Beneath that outward hesitance lurks a near fanatical drive to be the best. She resents being a “female athlete” and a “black athlete” and wants to show the world that really, she’s just Lily Kent, the fastest 400 medley swimmer in the world. Alicia Wilder - 17, petite, caucasian. Alicia is Lily’s long-time best friend. She is a self-confessed nerd, and her highest ambition is to be accepted to Stanford. She tries not to resent Lily for already having an athletic scholarship to the school, and she wants to be a good friend, but Lily can be distant and, really, what’s the big deal about being able to swim fast? Still, she supports her friend and puts up with a lot. So much so that no one else notices when Alicia herself can’t handle all the pressure. Jordan Kent - 40, strong and tall, African-American. Jordan is Lily’s dad, and they have a very close relationship. He was an NFL wide receiver when he fell in love with Lily’s mom, an assistant team doctor. She, however, pursued a career in humanitarian medicine abroad, leaving Jordan with Lily. He is now a wide receiver coach for the LA Rams, and Lily often visits the locker room. She is close with many of the players, who give her a racial community she doesn’t find in swimming. Jordan is very supportive of his daughter, but swimming is a totally alien sport to him. What does she mean that being the 4th best in the country only maybe gets some sponsorship deals? This sport is only televised a couple times a year? And what about teammates, people who share the burden of triumph and defeat? He does his best, but as a big black man in stands filled with small, white, California moms, he doesn’t find it easy.


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...