From Shonda Rhimes's MasterClass

Creating Memorable Characters: Part 2

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.

Topics include: Ensemble Characters • Evolving Characters • Killing a Character • Your Character's Journey


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.

Topics include: Ensemble Characters • Evolving Characters • Killing a Character • Your Character's Journey

Shonda Rhimes

Teaches Writing for 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.

Very informative and inspirational. I will highly recommend this to my friends.

This is the best thing that ever happened to me. I got this class back in December and here it is May and I’m preparing to direct my first shoot

I loved every gem she dropped in this class so much great information and insight into the world of writing!

Absolutely fantastic! Shonda pulls back the curtain and really demystifies the process and helps us to understand the world of a television writer!


Lindz C.

Very impressive. Could not stop watching and writing and in the past 36 hours I have nearly completed a First Season that has been giving me writer's block! Thank you. Now, if I can only complete the other 3 series I have hanging....

Adam C.

Great lesson for any writer: let the story dictate the fate of your characters.

Graeme R.

I feel very uncomfortable calling anyone a genius, including Albert Einstein, but Shonda Rhimes otherwise defies description. She has such a complete and seemingly effortless worldview of storytelling, and what must be done to be true and real and compelling to an audience. I find myself extending her principles and ideas into the world at large. If I could gift one masterclass to any new graduate, stepping forth into the world, it would be hers.


Unfortunately, I still have to go back and review the series to know exactly what Ms. Rhimes is talking about, but it all makes perfect sense.


Unfortunately I haven't seen either of these shows so it's difficult to connect with what is being taught.

Nia E.

Thanks for another powerful lesson. Sharing - Crafting unforgettable characters.

Natasha P.

Since I know these characters from watching all seasons of Grey's and Scandal.... this discussion made complete and total sense! I have always struggled with Character development. A few things just clicked. Great session!

Rose M.

I LOVE defending my characters in the story and being protective caring that they are doing okay! Millie's hootch was hilarious!

Meghan F.

The symbolism can play off of the characters and their foil characters. For instance, with Olivia and Mellie in Scandal. The writing can demonstrate the dramatic irony of what will happen. The audience may have a different opinion of what should happen versus what the character does. The writer should have intention of what happens next, and for character development. Character development should be natural. What has been some memorable moments in TV for you the viewer, that had great character development?

Beth B.

Learning a lot so far but my show is so different in that its one character every week with different situations and new characters. ( think High Maintenance) they have to develop in one short episode. Definitely not an ensemble. Wonder of there is a different approach.