Skip to content

Lesson: Character and World-Building

Table of Contents

This week we're going to look at using character and world-building for our scripts.

Now that we've spent many weeks having to cut back our descriptions and directing, we'll look at some ways to use WOARO and standard script form to reveal these details.

A Word of Caution

When it comes to character and world-building, I want you to use whichever tools that make you feel comfortable. If character outlines and hand-drawn maps make you happy, then enjoy it.

However, I have seen scripts, characters, scenes, and locations pulled apart in the filmmaking process which makes me want to approach all of it with caution.

So how can we use WOARO to make our life easier?

Character Building


An example of character outlines.

A popular tool for building characters is a character outline, like the one above. It is a list of attributes you can fill out to discover your character.

However, it can also be a waste if not used effectively.

Our job is to tell the story, through showing and not telling. The danger is these detail may not make it to the screen. As well, your cast and crew will also bring their own talents and may alter that vision.


Fortunately, WOARO can define many aspects of your characters through these simple questions:

  • What does your character want (internal and external)?
  • What obstacle stands in their way (internal and external)?
  • What actions do they take, and how do they respond?
  • How do you describe them?

These questions communicate and define your character—right from the beginning on the very first pages of your script (and if you take internal wants and obstacles, long before).

Placing your characters in action forces you (and them) to make choices about who they are. Whether you outline beforehand or work on it the day of writing, it is ALWAYS about making choices.

Want and Obstacles

Above all else, a character is defined by their wants, both internal and external.

The outer goals drive the story, but there are also driven by their inner desires that extend over a lifetime. These are the big goals of life and are defined by your character's history.

Similarly, external and inner obstacles shape a character's journey, standing in the way of what they want and holding them back.

Lastly, a character's wants and obstacles also define our allies, friends, and enemies.


Wants and Obstacles that are reflections of character.

Action and Response

It's important to remember that the actions a character takes or how they respond (what they do or say, or don't do or say) define them.

Action is always done with the intention to confront change—either to stop it from happening or to create it. But it is also done with a choice.

Between every action and every response to a stimulus, we have the moment to think and decide our course of action. These help build your character.

❗️Remember that not everything that defines a character is a choice. Some things are inherently a part of a character's wants, drives, and obstacles.

Also, remember that actions depend on specificity. Knowing exactly how your character loves, hates, defends, and responds defines them.

This specificity will also include the words a character uses. Are they eloquent, crass, or pandering? Do they talk down to some people, but not others? Also remember, just because a character doesn't have an education doesn't mean they can't sound intelligent (or vice versa). Thinking about the words your character uses is important.

And lastly, if the field of your character's actions changes, then it represents character change. For example, love turns to hate.


Actions and responses are a reflection of character.

Character descriptions

And lastly, character descriptions, which we've covered quite a bit:


World Building

Again, the danger of excessive world-building is that it doesn't make its way onto the page or screen, or the cast and crew will toss it aside to pursue their own vision.

But that doesn't mean that we can't still bring elements into the script.

First, we can use that opening descriptive introduction and the physical objects a character uses to introduce us to this world.

But we can also bake good world-building right into the WOARO mix. The wants and obstacles can define the world in relation to the environment around them. And the actions and responses of your characters to the world around them can further reveal it.

And remember that every character has an opportunity to reveal information about this world.


Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent example of world-building through showing and action.

Another way to think about this is the axiom show, don't tell. For example, if you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will often see large statues covering the landscape. They communicate a deep history to the world, without telling us the specifics. Think about how you can reveal that deep history to your characters and worlds without simply telling us anything.



In 2-3 pages, write a script that builds a character or world (or a small hint of one at least) through the use of WOARO. If you or your characters start telling the reader information in any manner then you have done this exercise wrong—show, don't tell!

Have fun with this one!

Marking Criteria:

  • Written in the active, present tense.
  • Proper screenplay format (including sluglines, parenthesis, and ALL CAPS on the introduction of characters).
  • Proper use of descriptions.
  • Includes a title page that uses the proper format.
  • Only five errors are allowed on each script.
  • Achieves the purpose of this week's assignment.

❗This assignment is due Sunday, Oct. 30, at midnight ( Saskatchewan time ).