Last week we went over some tips for character development and how we can use the triangle method or 3 act outline for helping our characters evolve. However, last week we didn’t talk about one of the most important things, and this is what makes our characters do what they do? Of course as the creators we write the stories, but how can we make our characters make decisions that aren’t out of character. I am sure you have seen a movie and at some point the character makes a decision that you questioned because it seemed out of character. Those are the kinds of things we are going to discuss today.
Let’s first start with some basics in building your characters. For a beginner I would recommend an exercise.Write out a character bio but write it as if you were creating your a character based on yourself. See what events played an important role in shaping your character. These backstories are important for what shapes your character’s current state and also their future decisions. One trap to keep an eye out for, is by putting too much detail and emphasis on events that your audience won’t know or see. For instance, I have seen some character bio’s online that have details such as the characters blood type. In my opinion, if you aren’t using that information, don’t even create it or spend time on it.
In some cases, you can start with a loose outline of your character and develop some backstory later, it just depends on how much history or past events your characters connect with. I also don’t think you need super detailed past events for at least starting a story. For instance, in Cosmic Rage, I have some loose outlines for characters backstories but since I haven’t written a good chunk of the middle portion of the story, I can add backstory events if needed and most importantly, as long as they make sense.
So now that our characters have some backstory to them, we can start to discuss how the characters can make logical choices in your world. In a well crafted world, your characters will write the story themselves. As cliche as this sounds, it’s true. It might not happen right away, but once your characters start to take on a life of their own, their choices and decisions will make perfect sense.
Take your basic story of good guy vs bad guy. The good guy always goes after the bad guy, no matter what and for a variety of reasons. If the good guy just decided to go home there wouldn’t be a story to tell unless you were potentially introducing a character who steps into that role in your world. Even anti-heroes get drug back into stories of saving the day. Whether it is a reluctant John McClain from the Die Hard series who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if it is Vegeta from Dragonball Z who turns good from having a common enemy with Goku.
Let’s take a different approach, let’s say in a drama Guy X wants to date Girl X. That is his motivation for the story and he will do things that get him closer to that goal, unless he eventually quits, which makes more sense in a story when the world isn’t on the line. This kind of element may be why you visited this blog as well, you want to become a writer or storyteller and are working on advancing your skills. Your decision to read this post alone supports your own motivation.
Since we have been referring to the triangle method in terms of story outlines and character development, we can do the same with character motivations. A character has a motivation and we need an event or a series of events that get that character to their end game or something that breaks them and gets them to disengage their pursuit of their motivation. And just like we did with outlines and character development, we can give a character multiple motivations. For instance Guy X who likes Girl X may also want to be a rich successful businessman, or maybe a broadway performer or even a mechanic. We can start to now use these motivations to play off each other. Maybe Guy X brags to Girl X about his successful business or his rich lifestyle in an attempt to gain her attention. Perhaps he uses his popularity as a performer to gain her interest or perhaps he struggles to talk to her so he formulates a character in which he uses as a self confidence booster to talk to her. Maybe he fixes her car or attempts to fix her car causing more damage making a relationship a potentially larger obstacle. The opportunities are endless.
So we covered a lot of ground today, but what if you are a beginner or you struggle with all of your characters making the same decisions or being too close to the same person. There are a few exercises and techniques you can use to overcome this as well. One tip is to base your characters personalities of of people you know or know enough of that gives you enough information. So imagine modeling a characters personality after yourself and then another character after a sibling, best friend or maybe a person you don’t like. By doing this you can write based on actual relationships and behaviors.
If you are writing about 2 best friends, maybe use yourself and a friend. By doing this you will give them certain details and intricacies that will make them more believable. It will also make the decisions the characters need to make towards or around one another easier to decide. Or if you want your character to interact with their parents the same as you interact with yours or even a friend and their parents. By observing different type of people and their relationships with others, it will provide a potential outline or blue print for you to at least get started.
You could even borrow personalities from existing characters, just beware not to write the same story. This technique takes discipline to use so your not just copying another piece of work, unless you are writing a fanfic.
For instance if we base a good caring character after Rick from the Walking Dead or to a more extreme example Goku from Dragonball Z, it would be really out of character for either of these characters to hurt someone else. They would need some form of conflict to make them do that or for them to change their ways and do so. In the Walking Dead’s case, it took a confrontation between Rick and Shane to resolve their conflict. Rick tried to avoid the conflict on several occasions and only had to fight when necessary. After his battle with Shane, it didn’t effect his character in the long run (at least so far) in his attitudes towards being a good person. It may have helped push him into having a shorter tollerance for threatening people, as we see in the start of the prison arc with the inmates.
Goku is the same way, he only fought the bad guys to save the world and even in those fights tried to persuade the bad guys to give up their evil ways. He even decided to remain dead since bad guys were trying to harm the Earth because he was around. Neither of these characters would go out of character and launch a pre emptive strike on another character, unless it was triggered by an event, which is character development.
As always feel free to comment below to share your thoughts or contact me if you have questions or want to talk about the topic some more. Next week may bring another writing lesson or a review, I haven’t decided. Thanks for stopping by 🙂