Developing Characters Through Behaviors: An Analysis Across Film Genres

Open Access
Rivera, Peter Dalorenz
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Kevin J Hagopian, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kevin J Hagopian, Honors Advisor
  • Maura Elizabeth Shea, Faculty Reader
  • film
  • Character development
  • character
  • behavior
  • traits
  • common
  • character evolution
The importance of characters in narrative cinema has been acknowledged through the history of both film scholarship and filmmaking. The character functions as a bridge between audience and film, making it a crucial element for screenwriters to understand. In order to retain audience engagement throughout the narrative, screenwriters must be able to create and develop multidimensional, complex characters that evolve and grow throughout the story. This is essential, as the audience needs to connect to the character to experience the excitement, thrill, and emotions felt by these characters through their journey in the movie. To aid screenwriters in accomplishing this feat, I sought to identify groups of common traits in the genres of action, horror, and drama. These traits would be identified by corresponding behaviors that can indicate their presence within characters. By analyzing the relationship between traits and behaviors, I hypothesized that character development can be logically developed for the audience through these behaviors, which can express a multitude of potential traits—creating opportunity for screenwriters to take advantage of as their characters continue to develop across the film.I hoped to establish a base of character traits in each genre that could be used by screenwriters to strengthen the connection between fictional character and audience. When the work of the screenwriter is made visual and sonic, a well-developed character is one of the best signatures a screenwriter can leave on a film. After sampling and analyzing thirty films across the action, horror, and drama genres, I determined that there is a potential common base of traits for the horror and action genres. While the drama genre remained inconclusive, this is due to the heavy reliance on emotional engagement found in characters belonging to this genre and may simply require adjustments to the method of analysis to take that factor into account for future research.