These things I know for sure:
- You can’t have a story without characters.
- You can’t have characters without desire.
- Therefore, you can’t have a story without desire.
Yesterday, I outlined a few tips on designing a visually interesting character. Today, I want to talk about developing a character’s character. How do you invent a believable character? Here are a few lessons that I have picked up.
- Your character must want something more than anything in the world. Everybody wants something. A true, strong character is going to have desires. Ariel wants to marry the handsome prince, Eric. Cowboy Woody wants to get back to his owner, Andy. All strong characters (and interesting people, for that matter) want something badly.
- Your character must be prevented from having what they want. How boring would your story be if you handed your characters their deepest desires? “Once upon a time, there was a dog who wanted a bone. So . . . he dug one up. And he . . . enjoyed it. A lot.” No, no! Let’s try again. “Once upon a time, there was a little mermaid, who wanted to marry the handsome prince, Eric. But she couldn’t, because he was a human and she was a mermaid.” Or, “Once upon a time, there was a cowboy doll named Woody, and what he wanted more than anything in the world was to get back to his owner, Andy, who accidentally left him at a gas station. But Woody couldn’t get back because he was toynapped by the evil neighbor boy, Sid Phillips, and Andy’s family was in the process of moving.” Now that sounds like an interesting story!
- Your characters must act to get what they want. Characters must act, not just react. When something happens to a character, he or she reacts. However, if a story is driven solely by outside influences that force your character to react, then the story is going to be driven by action and not by characters. Characters have to make decisions in order to get what they want. They have to make decisions, react to the consequences, and make more decisions based on those consequences. For example, Ariel wants to marry prince Eric, so she acts. She asks the sea witch, Ursula, to turn her into a human. A consequence of that action is that Ariel loses her voice and agrees to a contract that will allow Ursula to own her if she can’t convince Eric to kiss her in three days. In reaction to the consequence, Ariel tries to woo Eric into kissing her before it is too late. Get the idea? In order for characters to be interesting and believable, they have to actively pursue their desires and not just let things happen to them.
These are just a few tips that I have found to be helpful in developing a good story and strong characters. Tomorrow, I want to introduce another member of my cast and talk a little more on today’s subject.