IV: Bringing Characters to Life

Were you able to determine your key characters based on your first log line? Today we’re going to focus on two of those characters, the Hero and the Villain, and breath life into them. Let’s get right to it. Start on a clean piece of paper and write Hero on the left side and Villain on the right. We are talk about both characters equally because the Hero and Villain must be able to challenge each other. In my case I have two characters, raised in the same household who now oppose each other in nearly every way. How did these two get to this point? How am I going to turn this into a story people will want to see. Each character needs three things specifically, a FLAW, a GOAL and a BACKSTORY. Write these three headings down the left margin of the page leaving enough room between each one for notes.

Why does my character need a Flaw?

The simplest answer is, without a flaw your character will be perfect and no one like a perfectionist. A character’s flaw drives their story arc. Look at Scrooge from the book The Christmas Carol; he was miserly. Scrooge wouldn’t spend a pence if he could avoid it. Charles Dickens showed his readers this flaw very quickly in the book. Rationing coal in the office, not wanting to give Bob Cratchit Christmas off and then being surprised that he would have pay Cratchit for the day were just a few of the ways. If you have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I recommend you do. I find this to be a masterclass of character development.

The book is about Scrooge learning to take care of his fellow man. That’s very difficult to do if he will not part with his money. While I simplify it here, Scrooge loves wealth and success. As he became more successful he pushed people away leaving only his money to love. That’s what a flaw needs to do, it needs to drive the entire story. During the climax of the story the character reaches the top of his arc, recognizes their flaw and corrects it, just as Scrooge did.

Both your Hero and your Villain have a flaw, however the Villain’s may be defined more as a redeeming quality rather a flaw. For example, there was still good in Darth Vader. One of the best and most used flaws is FEAR. A character who is fearful will not take any action that forces him to face his fear. What are some other possible flaws? Turn to the Seven Deadly Sins; gluttony, lust, greed, pride, despair, wrath, vanity and sloth. Dickens turned to greed when determining Scrooge’s flaw.

So let’s take a look at creating the flaws for both of my characters. My Hero is a man in his 90’s who hasn’t spoken to his brother in any meaningful way for years. Why? What flaw could drive this action?  I’m currently leaning towards PRIDE. He is a very proud man who never turns to others for help, even if he needs it more than anything. He keeps everything bottled up inside. At some point the bottle is going to break.

Especially when spending days alone with the one man who knows how to push his buttons. The Villain is the man’s younger brother who is also in his 90’s. I want them to be reflects of each other but I won’t reuse Pride. If they are both proud, then where’s the conflict? Instead the brother’s flaw is actually already mentioned in my log line – jealousy. This is a form of lust, as in lusting after what someone else has. I am starting to see how the relationship between these two men are going to go. Write down your Hero’s and Villain’s flaws on your piece of paper and move on to the next topic.

Keeping an Eye on the Prize

What are you going to do today? What’s your goal for today? My goal right now is to get the first draft of this post completed so that I can edit it tomorrow for a posting by Friday. We all have goals. Pay off debt, buy a house, get to work on time. But sometimes our goals change because of things we didn’t expect. It’s the same with your characters. Everyone starts with a goal and as the story progresses some goals are forgotten while others are started. But throughout the entire story a single goal continues. Most of the time the characters do not know what their goal is and other times it is always present. When Luke bought the droids he had no idea that a few days later he would be blowing up the Death Star whereas James Bond knows exactly what to do at all times. For Queen and country. I call this long term goal the STORY GOAL.

We’ll talk further about the story goal when we start plotting out our screenplay but for now take note that the story goal is different from the characters’ goals. The story goal should appear in your log line. Using that take a moment to create a unique character goal for each of the two characters. What is the Hero trying to do and what is the Villain trying to do? Make sure these to goals oppose each other. If they don’t you will find it difficult to create opposition throughout your story. Once you have the two goals, write them down on your piece of paper under the corresponding character.

My story goal, as mentioned in my first log line was to drive across the country to attend a funeral. But I need to come up with a character goal for each character. I’m going to give this some thought and present my notes in the next article.

Certain Point of View

A character’s point of view (POV) comes from their specific background. Someone raised in Upper New York State will have a completely different view on the world than an individual who grew up on the streets of Tokyo. This is why a character’s background is very important and needs to have a lot of time set aside. I like to break down a character’s background into decade long blocks. I try not to go year by year unless there is a specific event that appears in the story (in which case it’s further detailed). What events influenced the character in their first ten years? Where were they born? Who were their parents? Where did they live? How was grade school? The second ten years? What was high school like? How many friends? Bullies? Lovers? The third ten year, and so on. On the paper start with just simple notes. Today’s assignment will ask you to flush out those notes into specific details.

This is where my two characters had a great wedge driven between them. Once I determine when the wedge was driven I will need to write out the details. I recommend actually writing a story around any very important, story-required events in your characters’ lives. You need to know your character’s background better than they do. Keep that in mind. I need to write a story around the great wedge and I need to make it dramatic because it still has to affect my two characters into their 90’s.

Get to know your characters. Go beyond these brainstorming ideas. This is why we are doing these notes using pen and paper, so you have the freedom to find the details of your story. It is at this point where a great story starts to pull away from a good story. Happy writing and I’ll speak to you again next week.

– Stephen

Previous feekwrites.com Articles

A Screenplay in 70 Days – Week Two
Creating My Characters
More on Characters
Character Goal vs. Story Question
Waiter, There’s a Flaw in my Character

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