What are characters?
Create characters that your audience will root for!”
Characters are the lifeblood of your stories and the vehicle through which stories are told. But they have to be carefully crafted so they are believable, interesting, and we care about their situation.
Two key areas of character are:
- Characterisation – their viewable attributes (external).
- Motivation – their wants and needs (internal).
Characterisation is sum of the character’s qualities. These include age, intelligence, sex, sexuality, accent, mannerisms, education, job, and personality – their viewable attributes. Characterisation is the tip of the iceberg however and mask what’s really inside.
Character motivation is fuelled by their wants and needs. These are two different forces where the ‘want’ is usually clear but the ‘need’ is subtle or undiscovered.
Does the character get what they want, or do they achieve what they need? The battle between these forces propels your story forward.
Why do we need this detail in a character?
The combination of characterisation and motivation ensures the character is believable and you have a vested interest in their journey.
The battle between wants and needs is interesting. The wants can provide the entertainment in a story, where they will do anything to achieve the goals in front of them. The needs can cover emotional desires like needing to grow, succeed, care for family or have good relationships.
The choices that a character make contributes to their character arc and exposes their true inner nature. This can reveal if they are:
- Caring or cruel.
- Generous or selfish.
- Strong or weak.
- Honest or a liar.
- Brave or cowardly.
This makes the characters well rounded and interesting, especially if they have changed from one extreme to the other.
How can we develop our characters?
Characters are developed by discovering their inner nature. What is below the surface ready to be revealed? Work on the wants and needs and create conflict between the two. If they try to get what they need, it means they won’t get what they want. Are they ready to make a sacrifice?
Some questions that you can ask about your characters include:
- What do they want most?
- Who do they want to become?
- What might they need in order to succeed?
Throw in obstacles or conflict in front of their wants or needs. These obstacles can be other characters such as the antagonist, the environment or even their internal struggles. Choose obstacles that reveal a character flaw or make them decide between their wants and needs.
Turbo charge your story with high-stakes choices. These present the character with dilemmas with associated risk and reward. When the stakes are high, tension and engagement increases and reveals the true (unconscious) nature of the character.
In a learning context, dilemmas can be used in interactive scenarios. For the dilemma to be effective, choices must be credible so the learner considers and weighs the consequences of both actions. The consequences should move the story forward or reveal something of interest about one of the characters to add momentum and engagement in your scenario.