A guest post by Art Holcomb
These three components – goals, obstacles and stakes – are nothing short of the holy trinity of character.
Nothing – I repeat, NOTHING – is more important to your character than understanding these three points.
• They are the basis of all characterization.
• They keep your character on track throughout the story.
• They make understanding the motivation of the character easier and clearer at every point in the narrative
• Whenever you get lost in the story, turning back to these three points will get you back on track.
Remember: we want our characters to have the power and inner-life of real humans, so as to better connect with our audience.
This begins with each character having a MISSION in your story – a point that Larry makes to you all the time. Every character must have a purpose, a reason behind every action. They must be moved to accomplish something – whether it is to persuade, obstruct, endear, accompany, reflect, emote or act.
It’s such a simple thing, and yet so many writers get caught up in the need to describe what’s happening, that they completely forget that their characters’ actions require a reason – a motivation – make sense of what they do.
That motivation must be clear to the reader.
Especially since most of the time, a well-written character is not consciously aware of their own motivation, a very important fact to consider when you realize that your hero should undergo some kind of emotional change which leads to their growth in most stories (there are exceptions, but probably not as many as you might imagine!)
(In my practice with my private clients and university students, I drive home this trinity as a basic fundamental of all writing. Regardless of the experience of my writers — which runs the gamut from published novelists/produced screenwriters all the way down to beginning and aspiring writers – we never stop honing and perfecting our understanding of this concept.)
Now, for how you can use this concept in your own writing:
It will take just a moment for you to use this form help you develop the motivations of your own characters. The insights you gain from this little exercise, I guarantee, will improve your writing.
So let’s answer some questions about your main characters, taking each one at a time:
(1) Start with a ten (10) word description of the character:
(2) What is it that your character WANTS:
(3) Now, what do you think this character NEEDS out of life:
(4) What is this character’s GREATEST FEAR:
(5) Now, re-consider Question 3 above: What do you think this character REALLY NEEDS:
(6) Who or what is STANDING IN THE WAY of this character getting what s/he wants?
(7) What does this obstacle look like?
(8) If these obstacles cannot be overcome, what does this character stand to lose? How will this affect this character in a PROFOUND way? Describe that feeling in the character:
(9) Now, how do these answers affect or change your idea of the character?
So . . . Let’s sum up:
If s/he SUCCEEDS, s/he will feel:
If s/he FAILS, s/he will feel:
Therefore this character’s vital mission is to…
Your NEW ten (10) word description of this character is:
Until next time – keep writing.
ART HOLCOMB is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, fiction writer and comic book creator and is a regular columnist for Creative Screenwriting Magazine, called “The Best Magazine for Screenwriters” by The Los Angeles Times.
He has sold to the STAR TREK television franchise for Paramount Television and worked on projects for Gene Roddenberry and the estates of legendary actors Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando. He has also written for the critically acclaimed animation series SHADOW RAIDERS, as well as consulted for video game companies, film production companies and publishing houses.
His short story, The Perfect Bracket with acclaimed novelist Howard V. Hendrix, will appear in ANALOG Magazine in the spring of 2015. A play by the same name is currently under consideration for production by the National Actor’s Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. A new science fiction/treasure hunt novel (with co-writer Hendrix) entitled The Strewn is scheduled for completion in 2015.
You can read more of Art’s thoughts on the craft of writing at www.artholcomb.blogspot.com