There are many rules in screenwriting, but one of the most important is ‘Never judge your characters.’ I thought it was worth a minute to explain what this means and why it’s so important.
Every person on the planet, yourself included, has a worldview and a set of morals he lives by. We tend to approach most situations in accordance with our morals and worldview, but then as we collect experiences, those views and morals change. We may be told as children that lying is wrong, but then as we get older, we realize that lying is acceptable if the intent is to spare someone’s feelings, or if the lie doesn’t cause anyone damage in any way—or maybe we won’t. Maybe we live by the rule that lying is wrong no matter what. My point is, our morals, character, and perspectives are not set in stone. They are open to changing, and yet they must be solid enough to guide us through life and help us make the right decisions most of the time.
The interesting thing about being a screenwriter is that you are first and foremost a person with your own worldview and moral compass. But as a screenwriter, your job is create characters that each have their own morality and worldview that may not reflect your own. So how does one do that? How do you create layered characters that do things you, as a person, feel is immoral or differ so much from your own perspective that it’s hard to understand how they think.
That’s why you don’t judge your characters. When you write, you must let go of your own perspective as a person. You are no longer yourself. You are your characters. They are not bad or good or evil or angelic. They are people with histories and experiences that differ from yours. And because of those experiences, they have settled on a view of the world that’s different from yours. And you must understand why they think what they think and do what they do based on their own perspectives. If you can do that, you can write characters that are relatable to an audience even if they do things that most people wouldn’t.