Film & TV

Creating Memorable Characters: Part 2

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 16:44 min

Shonda shares her techniques on how to effectively develop and evolve your characters when writing your stories, including when and how to kill off characters.

Shonda Rhimes
Teaches Writing for Television
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.
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When I'm developing an ensemble of characters, I don't necessarily think this character has to be like this or this character has to be like this. It's a little bit like putting together a band. You want everybody to sort of harmonize well together. And not in a sense that everybody has to get along, but that there has to be a tune going on there that's interesting. So if we think about Scandal, you have Olivia, who is sort of your lead singer, and she works really well. But then you have to have Huck, who's odd but wise, and I always call him her you know attack dog, but he's odd but wise. He really does provide all kinds of strange wisdom. You have Abby, who is loyal, especially in the pilot, loyal and quiet and sort of there. Harrison, who's the smart one, who's sort of saying everything fast and sort of leaning into everything; Quinn, who's new. You have everybody sort of working in concert with one another so that you can sort of see who they are. And when you put them all together, they form a very nice group of people. I think when you're forming an ensemble, it's important to have somebody in that ensemble who is the voice of-- I don't want to just say dissent for the main character, but you need somebody for the main character to both be able to talk to and somebody who sort of makes sure the main character knows what they're doing wrong. And that doesn't necessarily have to be the same person, but you do need those two people in that world. You also need the person who's going to make sure that we know what is right and what is wrong in the world. On Grey's, that person is the chief. Anything the chief says, you believe without question. It's very interesting. He can say the sky has turned purple and everybody's like oh yeah, the sky's purple. But if Alex said it you'd be like, mm, I think he's lying. It's very interesting. You have the sort of moral compass people. Dr. Bailey is the person who can sort of fight with Meredith and tell her what she thinks she's doing right or doing wrong. Alex is the person that Meredith speaks to, and she tells her secrets to. So you have to have those people or else it doesn't necessarily lay out. And in a lot of shows, it looks very different. It can be kind of a total stranger that somebody talks to. It can be their, you know, kidnapper. It can be somebody in prison with them. It's always a very different look, but you need those people or else you're not hearing what's going on for real. It's just somebody talking to themselves. It's really interesting when you watch some shows and you realize that for a lot of characters, things happen around them, but they don't happen to things. Try to make sure your characters are happening to things. They are the ones making things happen. For better or for worse-- they could be destroying the world around them accidentally or on p...

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 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.


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

Shonda has opened a world of possibilities for me. I admire her so much that, through listening to her point of view and experience, career wise, I got a lot stronger and positive in my own writing.

My mind is being open to another level. Transcending level with my observation in writing scripts in detail seeing scripts come to life in a pilot.

It was an awesome experience! Shonda had a lot of great information, most things we didn't know. We plan to go back and go through the course again. We are working hard to write our own show and Shonda's tips are invaluable. We thank you!

I have learned many great advice and found inspiration to keep going.


Desmond K.

I love that she referenced the dynamic between Olivia and Mellie! The evolution of that relationship was done so well!

A fellow student

I've mostly wrote feature films and this is really helping me develop my shows. I love this!

Khadijah F.

This will help me with my character development. I was getting hung up on describing some of their looks. I have a casting background (reality shows and commercials mostly) but never realized television characters appearance can be decided during the audition process.

John H.

This lesson inspired my thinking about character development. I have great characters. Now I understand better the importance of writing them with a 3-D perspective. Great stuff!

Julian D.

Want and need . . . wonderful, music to my ears, the essential, symbiotic elements for deep characterization.

Chava G.

Writing for TV is the deep hard dig, characters are simulative, fascinating to utilize/ This Shonda Rhimes, screen writing class, has aha moments all over it! Each breath can be the very enlightening reward based experience we all have been looking for. Characters with life cycles, that is calibrated awesome!

Omar N.

incredible value. also VERY smart idea to have bookmarks along the buffer bar where people can know what is being talked about (like chapters). Thank you

Marcus M.

Great insight into character development. I don't think I ever thought about why some characters get written out or are killed off....

Elizabeth R.

I am learning so much from Shonda, perhaps more so than anyone else. I do have to interject here, however, that I do not know of anyone who drowns their sorrows in red wine, or any other kind of alcohol because I don't drink and none of my friends drink. This liquor fueled life I see on TV, I just assumed was one of the metaphors of TV, but perhaps I'm not in touch with the real world. That's possible. Still, it does bring up the question of is TV pushing addiction when it has characters in a program drinking hard alcohol. It that an advertisement. I do get bored with the visual in movies and TV that folks who are experiencing tough emotions should then drink alcohol or do drugs to deal with them. Then there is the visual that if something horrible or shocking happens, the character vomits. Are these ultimately short cuts to signaling state of mind that we as writers should avoid? It's worth thinking about.

Prudence S.

I am a beginner, someone who just writes to heal. But taking this class has given me new purpose, and i realize my story is a healing story not just for me but for others as well. I have been redeemed.