How To Create Great Characters For Your Novel or Screenplay
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How To Create Great Characters For Your Novel or Screenplay

Writing course from NY Times-praised authors, book editors and writing coaches to help you create compelling characters
4.5 (1 rating)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
15 students enrolled
Created by Ayn & Sam Gailey
Last updated 9/2017
Current price: $10 Original price: $65 Discount: 85% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  • 1 hour on-demand video
  • 1 Article
  • 15 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • How to craft compelling characters for a novel, screenplay or graphic novel
  • Gain an understanding of how conflict creates dynamic and memorable fiction characters
  • How to create situations for your characters that illuminate their strengths and weaknesses
  • How to create characters compelling enough to give you the momentum you need to write a commercially successful and publishable novel, screenplay, or graphic novel
  • Learn how "want vs. need" and conflicts help build a transformational arc in your character
View Curriculum
  • There are no prerequisites for this class, but the following is helpful:
  • The ability to download PDF worksheets, resource lists, writing prompts and exercises
  • Enthusiasm and a commitment to being the best writer you can be

Novel Lab co-founders and critically-acclaimed authors and book coaches, Ayn & Sam Gailey, take you through ten inspiring lectures to guide you toward the goal of creating memorable commercial characters. Using the same advice they give to their New York Times best-selling clients, they will teach you how to craft characters that will become the heart of your story. You will also gain an understanding of how your characters integrate with plot to create a powerful story. Perfect for beginner writers or experienced writers who want to create more original and moving characters.

Instructors will use the following books to illustrate character development: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey; Harry Potter... by J.K. Rowling; The Girl On A Train by Paula Hawkins; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, and others. 


Ayn & Sam helped me find the heart of my story and guided me through the writing, editing and publishing process with expertise, passion and a lot of patience. Without them, my book would not have made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list. 

— Lenny Dykstra, Lenny Dykstra: Memoir of Life on the Edge (Harper Collins 2016)

Ayn & Sam are unique and rare. They can write their own riveting books while also helping other writers create and complete their own stories, no matter how complex. They are also a pleasure to work with. 

— Amy Schiffman, literary manager/partner, IPG (Dennis Lehane, Don Delillo, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Richard Russo, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton)

Gailey’s “Deep Winter” is enthralling and suspenseful, like a Michael Connelly or Lee Child crime novel, but more elegantly written.

— Esquire Magazine

Thanks to the guidance I received, I was able to hone the concept for my book and sign with a top book agent. Ayn & Sam know how to make the process inspiring and fun. 

— Shannon Bindler, Life Coach, Celebrity Stylist, Blogger

"Deep Winter” by Samuel W. Gailey is beautifully written... 

— The New York Times

Gailey’s work is…so brilliantly done, so artfully underwritten with not a word wasted… 

— Booklist

Skillfully blending memoir and investigative journalism, Ayn Gailey tells a story with hilarious, self-deprecating wit and extreme honesty... 

— Library Journal

Tough, straight, upsetting, and strangely beautiful. One of the best sports autobiographies I’ve ever read. It comes from the heart. 

— Author Stephen King on "Memoir of Life On The Edge"

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is great for beginners or experienced writers who want to elevate their characters to a higher level
  • For writers interested in writing commercial fiction, not experimental fiction
  • Great for writers who struggle with writing compelling and original characters
Compare to Other Novel Writing Courses
Curriculum For This Course
10 Lectures
How To Create Great Characters For Your Novel or Screenplay
10 Lectures 01:06:42

Ayn and Sam passionately discuss their approach to crafting compelling characters for literary fiction, YA novels, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi/fantasies, romances and more. Perfect for both new writers working on their very first novel or screenplay, or for writers that have a completed book or script but need help with creating richer, more original characters to help elevate their writing and appeal to agents and publishers. 

The tips shared in this lecture series are the same tips used by Ayn & Sam when writing their own critically-acclaimed books or coaching other best-selling writers, whom they've helped get on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Information is shared with you via engaging video lectures, fun quizzes, and pdf worksheets. All students are also invited to join the "Novel Lab Students" private Facebook Group Page where Ayn & Sam personally address questions by writers and share more resources and writing tips.

Preview 02:55

It may not seem like "Ordinary World" or setting is important to character development, but Ayn & Sam explain in vivid detail exactly why a character's ordinary world should be considered when creating your character and his or her detailed traits. They illustrate this concept with commercially popular novels and movies in their video lecture to help inspire you to construct a setting and character(s) that work well together to create a commercially compelling story for your novel or screenplay.

This lecture also includes two graphics describing the "Ordinary World" of Bridget Jones's Diary and The Hunger Games

Preview 06:29

In this lecture, Ayn & Sam dive into a character and story development element that not enough writing courses cover. In their opinion, in all successful stories, your protagonist (the hero) thinks that he/she wants something, however, after starting their journey, they discover what they really need. The struggle between want vs. need makes for powerful conflict and a dramatic character arc and transformation. In this lecture Ayn & Sam passionately explain how this concept works, what you need to do to make sure your characters struggle with it, and share examples from real life books and movies to bring the concept alive for you.

Want vs. Need

In this video lecture, Ayn & Sam have created questions that serve as writing prompts to help you get to know your character and to help you develop one that is multi-dimensional and compelling for your novel or screenplay.

Getting to know your character means that you can feel what its like to walk in their shoes; therefore, you can create an authentic character and know how they would react in any situation. The writing prompts will help you create a complete physical description (including basics such as age, height, color of their hair, handicaps, how they speak etc.). You will also explore inner thoughts, motivation, backstory, likes and dislikes, fears, insecurities, etc.  Every character should also have a strength (a characteristic that can help them triumph in the course of the story) and a weakness that challenges them. Yes, even in a romantic comedy.  In addition to the video lecture, the attached Character Development worksheet provides fun questions and prompts to help you get to know your character and to make sure that you develop one that is multi-dimensional, compelling and memorable. 

Preview 06:30

Just like your hero (or protagonist), your villain (or antagonist) must be compelling and complex.  An one-dimensional antagonist will not sustain your readers for an entire book.  And similar to your protagonist, your antagonist should have strong wants, strengths and weaknesses, and be a fully developed character.  In some great stories, the hero is their own worst enemy.  In this lesson, Sam will share advice on how to create great bad guys.  Note: The Character Development worksheet/prompts are included with this lecture under resources. It's a great idea to apply the same questions when creating your antagonist. Have fun!

Great Bad Guys Make Great Good Guys

Conflict, conflict, conflict!  Whether your novel or screenplay is a thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, drama, or a romantic comedy, make it super hard on your characters at every turn.  Conflict draws the reader deeper into your story, and without it, even the highest concept story will fall flat.  In this lesson, Ayn and Sam will explain how to create conflict and hurdles that will force your characters to think and act differently, and help them on their path to a transformation that will entertain readers or audiences.

Make It Hard On Them

This video lecture and the accompanying "Great Dialogue Checklist" resource are designed to help you write fantastic dialogue. Thanks to feedback from one of our first students, we have also added sample pages of dialogue from real novels as another resource and will be adding more this week. Here's a list of what we've included and why. 

GIRL ON A TRAIN by Paula Hawkins—Great example of an author using unfinished sentences in dialogue. In this scene the main character, Rachel, is being questioned by detectives who are investigating the disappearance of another woman. Rachel also does not answer questions directly (this is a good thing!). Even from this one page out of context you can sense the internal conflict in the character and the external conflict with the other characters. The dialogue also moves the story forward. We now know she will most likely be a suspect in the disappearance the police are investigating.

DUNE by Frank Herbert—Dune contains great examples of inner and voiced dialogue that moves the story forward while also shedding light on back story (again, to move the story forward), which creates intriguing scenes full of conflict and suspense. The scene we've chosen takes place early in the book. A Bene Gesserit witch has come to test Paul with what is called a gom jabbar. The test of the gom jabbar is a device used to test will-power and discipline. It requires strong self-control to deliberately endure agonizing pain and if not endured properly it can result in the loss of life. The Bene Gesserit witch is applying the test to learn if Paul is the culmination of generations of deliberately calculated breeding by the Bene Gesserits to create a super being known as the Kwisatz Haderach. If you like the resource we've attached and want to read more of the first chapter of Dune, which contains this scene, visit:

SIMPLE PLAN by Scott Smith—In the book and movie, Simple Plan, the main character, Hank Mitchell, his feckless brother Jacob and Jacob's shady friend Lou find a wrecked small plane and its dead pilot in the woods near their small Ohio town and decide not to tell the authorities about the $4.4 million in cash also on the plane. In the scene we are including in our resources, the dialogue is a great example of differentiating the characters from each other. In this case it's clear they all have a different moral compass, for instance. The dialogue certainly moves the story forward and is a great example of a catapult for the main character (you can learn more about catapults in lecture 9). The dialogue between these three characters also sets up the seeds of a conflict that is going to grow and it parlays into the theme that sometimes man is his own worst enemy.  

PORNOLOGY by Ayn Carrillo Gailey—In the beginning of Ayn's memoir the main character has a lot of inner dialogue with herself because she cannot express these thoughts to her boyfriend, Greg. These inner thoughts set up her personality quickly (on page 1!), and the conflicts she has with Greg which build to the catapult. The dialogue is also humorous and these two pages are a large reason why the book sold to Running Press & Random House and was optioned as a feature film based on the book.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper—Jonathan Tropper is one of the kings of witty, sarcastic banter and the opening of this book is a perfect example why. Within the first two pages he sets up the death of this father, the relationship between him and his sister and their mother and the catapult of the entire book. Notice how the characters' attitudes are conveyed through the dialogue. The dialogue also has nice rhythm and certainly moves the story forward.

Great Dialogue Makes Great Characters

In this lively video discussion, Ayn & Sam share some of their favorite book and movie characters with you to illustrate how authors and scriptwriters shape characters to make them resonate with audiences and readers.

Our Favorite Characters

In this informative video lecture Ayn reveals how the Catapult or Inciting Incident of a story is linked to character development. The “Catapult” is the event or decision that begins the story or the main challenge of the story for the character. This lecture includes a worksheet to help writers develop a memorable catapult that works with their character.

The Importance of The Catapult

This lecture consists of extra resources that Ayn & Sam rely on to help inspire themselves and other writers when it comes to character development. 

1. The download to "Hero Myth Character Types by Patrick Gavin" is a fun chart designed by Gavin, a Boston Globe writer. He uses the character archetypes described in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” to compare characters from the Harry Potter series, “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “Lord Of The Rings” and… “Finding Nemo.” Also included is an external resource link (Patrick Garvin Sheds Light on The Hero Myth, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord Of The Rings) to the blog post in which Gavin discusses how he came about creating the chart.

2. An external resource link to Syd Field's website is also included. Syd Field was a top story consultant for years on some of the best movies in cinema history. He was known for visual storytelling and his theories on story structure can also be applied to writing novels. 

3.The Hero’s Journey is a recurring structure identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that is present in many movies, books, myths, and even religious rituals.  It details the typical adventure of the classic character archetype known as The Hero, aka the person who usually risks something to do great deeds on behalf of a loved one, group, tribe, or civilization. An external resource link to The Writer's Journey post provides the background on The Hero's Journey and shares diagrams that writers can use. This resource is especially helpful for screenwriters and anyone writing a book or script in the action-adventure, fantasy or sci-fi genres.

4. A list of all books and movies referred to is included. If you're writing in one of the genres these books represent, Ayn & Sam recommend reading that book.

5. An external resource link to: The 100 favorite fictional characters... as chosen by 100 literary luminaries

6. Lastly, Ayn & Sam have included an inspirational quote to remind you that all this work on character development proves that you have what it takes to be a good writer. 

Bonus Materials
About the Instructor
Ayn & Sam Gailey
4.5 Average rating
1 Review
15 Students
1 Course
Critically-acclaimed authors and book whisperers

Ayn & Sam are critically-acclaimed authors, writing coaches, ghostwriters and editors. Their own work and projects on behalf of authors and publishers has been praised by notable critics of The New York Times, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Elle, Kirkus Reviews, Good Reads, Esquire and by author Stephen King, as well as by editors at Harper Collins, Random House, Running Press and Penguin. They have helped writers of all ages find their voice, write their stories and make their literary dreams happen. In addition to their published books, they have written for Showtime, Fox and PBS.

Ayn is a graduate of Harvard University and UCLA and holds a Masters of Fine Arts in screenwriting from UCLA Film School.  Her poignant yet humorous non-fiction book Pornology was published in the U.S. (Running Press), the UK (Random House), Germany, and Asia.  It is slated to be adapted into a film in 2018.  Ayn is represented by literary agents De Fiore in NYC and by Amy Schiffman of IPG for literary film rights.  

Sam holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from North Carolina. His scriptwriting has won the grand prize in Scriptapalooza and his recent novel, Deep Winter (Penguin/Blue Rider Press), was critically-acclaimed by all major critics in the U.S. and France, described as "Beautifully written" by The New York Times, and reviewed by Esquire Magazine as " a Michael Connelly or Lee Child novel but more literary." Sam is represented by literary agents at Zachary Schuster Harmsworth and his film rights are represented by IPG.