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STORYCO CO-LAB #1 - "Building Complex Characters" With Screenwriter Julia Yorks


00:00 - Introducing StoryCo Co/Lab and our first host, screenwriter Julia Yorks!

01:29 - Questions for the audience: what makes a great character and who are your favorites?

03:01 - The role of writers in casting process

04:29 - Three traits of well-written characters: active, root-forable, and specific

05:22 - Making main characters active: tips from TikTok

07:13 - Active characters create the plot (eg. John McClain from Die Hard)

08:29 - Strong characters: likable vs. unlikable

09:54 - Crafting characters we root for despite their flaws

11:34 - Specificity in characterization-eg, Ken from Barbie

11:51 - Why do side characters sometimes steal the show?

13:19 - Writing main characters based on personal experience

15:37 - Creating complex characters by giving them a life goal

19:10 - Transitioning to audience Q&A session

19:28 - How do you decide what to include/leave out when crafting a character?

20:52 - What makes the best villains?

21:50 - What was the first character you wrote that you were proud of

23:50 - How to avoid cliched characters and motivations?

25:13 - How to create complex characters with unique flaws and arcs

27:24 - Writing villains that audiences can enjoy without turning them into antiheroes

29:33 - How do you create line between rooting for the hero vs. the villain.

30:32 - The challenge of writing an ensemble cast.

32:04 - Closing remarks and introducing next Co/Labs!


Session Recap

In our very first Co/Lab session, screenwriter and writing coach Julia Yorks walked attending writers through her process for crafting memorable characters.

Julia commenced the session with a simple ice breaker question posed to the audience: what makes a strong character and who are some of the best of all time?

As Julia kicked off the workshop portion of the session, she introduced the concept of what makes a “strong” character, professing that they are active in that they have goals and plans, “root-for-able,” and specific in their voice and POV.


Stealing slang from TikTok, she shared that fictional heroes should exhude “main character energy,” meaning writers should craft their main characters as active in pursuing their goals as opposed to letting the plot happen to them. Julia used the example of John McClane is in DIE HARD, in how active he is in pursuing his goal of saving his wife from the terrorist attack by any means necessary.

Julia continued in her discussion of building strong characters by contrasting strong characters with “likeable” ones, using examples like Walter White from BREAKING BAD and Piper from ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK to explain how we still root for characters whose morals are in question, as long as they are active, driven by purpose, and have some degree of heart.

Julia then shifted gears to side characters, explaining that they often steal the show from the main characters because writers often create side characters from real people in their life. This heightened degree of specificity makes these characters feel more real, and hence more relatable.

She highlighted this portion by sharing that Ken from BARBIE was her favorite character from 2023’s summer blockbuster, given that she recognized in Ken many of her classmates from her time as an undergrad at USC.

Before taking questions from the audience, Julia summed up the workshop portion with a “complex character checklist,” sharing the three key questions writers should asking themselves when creating a character:

-What does the character want?

-How do they initially try to get what they want?

-What changes their want or their tactic?

In Julia Yorks' engaging Co/Lab, participants explored the essentials of crafting strong, root-for-able characters as the hero of a screenplay, highlighting the need to give them goals to pursue, highlighting the importance of understanding a character's motivations and whether or not they are actively pursuing their goals.

All great characters are active. Great characters are not necessarily 'likeable.'

We’re grateful to everyone who participated in our inaugural Co/Lab and to Julia for serving as our guinea pig-host and offering us a window into how she approaches building dynamic, root-for-able characters.

For more educational screenwriting content from Julia Yorks, be sure to follow her on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram @Juliayorks, and subscribe to her Substack at juliayorks.substack.com.