The X-Men franchise can teach us a few things about creating fascinating characters that people want to see again and again. After all the X-Men movie series was hugely popular with X2: X-Men United bringing in $155.2 million in its opening weekend and X-Men Origins: Wolverine making $85 million on its opening weekend. Hollywood knows where the money is at and is more than willing to capitalize on charismatic heroes.

Creating an Ensemble CastThe X-Men series certainly had its share of interesting characters including Wolverine with his metal skeleton, quick healing abilities, and long sharp claws. Then there is Nightcrawler from X-Men 2 with a prehensile tail, circus background, and deep religious beliefs.

What is it that gets Wolverine his very own movie while Nightcrawler remains a minor film character? And how do scriptwriters keep interesting minor characters from stealing the show?

Creating a Strong Lead Character

Although Wolverine and Nightcrawler are both strong characters, Wolverine becomes a protagonist while Nightcrawler remains a supporting character. Ultimately this is because the scriptwriters ensure Wolverine gets the better lines. Nightcrawler is funny but Wolverine never fades into the background. Wolverine is not only a lead, but also a fun character with funny lines and plenty of zingers ready for Nightcrawler. So, when you are writing a script be certain to give the lead plenty of good lines and lots of color.

Building Character through Emotions

A key to creating a good character is adding an emotional struggle. The conflict of the story should hit the character and the audience on an emotional level. The audience should be able to put themselves in the character’s position and understand what he’s going through.

Sometimes screenwriters avoid adding emotional conflict to their stories because they don’t want to deal with their own emotions. However, using a story is a great way to confront and explore one’s own emotions. Finding your own emotional fears and exploring them is also a surefire way to capture your audience. It may be painful but it will make your protagonists seem more real and emotional.

Back to Wolverine – his emotions are one reason he is such an engaging character. He can’t remember his past, he’s afraid he’s a monster, and he has to ultimately face who he is. Wolverine isn’t a flat colorless character – he’s tortured and brooding.

He’s afraid of who he is. Likewise, other X-Men characters defined by their fears are made more interesting. Rogue is afraid of hurting her loved ones and is thus more interesting than Storm who just has awesome superpowers.

In essence, the best way to create an engaging character is to:

  1. Give the lead an emotional conflict,
  2. Give the star role more good lines,
  3. Make the story’s conflict about the protagonist, and not some other character.