Crafting a Character Part 1: In the Now

As I mentioned in my post about Goal, Motivation, Conflict, character is the most rudimentary ingredient in fiction.

From the writing guide Revision & Self Editing by James Scott Bell, I’ll be hand selecting three fundamental considerations for every post in my Crafting a Character series. For the purpose of self-knowledge, you could also create a character sketch of yourself and dig into the following concepts to obtain a goldmine of introspection.

 

I am More Than Just an A/S/L!

The typical character sketch would include the age, sex, language, and other physical traits of a person. If you want to run deeper than a basic police profile, consider the following.

Point of Vulnerability: 

Knowing your character’s point of vulnerability can vastly shape your entire story. Figure out what their personal pitfalls are, what triggers their frustration the most. It will be one of the greatest deciding factors in  what they will react to and how.

From Back to the Future, Marty McFly’s point of vulnerability is his sense of courage. No matter what era Marty finds himself in throughout the epic trilogy, he often walks away from a challenge until Biff Tannen (or his ancestor) asks, “what’s the matter, [are] you chicken?”

Our spunky, time traveling hero turns around and responds with “nobody calls me chicken!” This point of vulnerability causes Marty to never backdown to almost every challenge presented by this long running lineage of bullies. It often gets him into more trouble as opposed to escaping it.

At the end of the epic trilogy, Marty learns to feel secure with his integrity, thus knowing when to back down from a needless challenge. Although this test of bravery had served him well for the first half of the series, this point of vulnerability and how he deals with it is revealed for what it is; an ego trip designed to make him feel brave, while costing him progression toward his more important goals.

What’s your point of vulnerability? What kinds of challenges do you receive relevant to it, and how do you react to them? 

Physical appearance and how they feel about it: 

cat-lion-mirrorPhysical appearance only describes how a person looks, but what’s more important than this basic fact is how they feel about it.

In Skinny by Donna Cooner, an obese high school senior named Ever is tormented by the whisperings of “Skinny,” a voice in her head who constantly berates her about her weight.

When Ever breaks the chair she’s sitting on at a school assembly, she decides that enough is enough. She goes under gastral bypass surgery to help control her food intake, as well as start an exercice regimen that helps her expand her self confidence by shrinking her waistline.

Even people of average or beyond average attractiveness can have issues with their physical appearance. (For the sake of argument, let’s just say there is an objective standard for beauty, even though it’s usually in the eye of the beholder.)

For instance; Perfect by Natasha Friend features a dynamic duo of 13 year old girls that have bulimia. Since the death of her father, the protagonist Isabelle developed the habit of binging on a ton of food and purging it right out.

Isabelle joins a bulimia outreach group where she is surprised to find Ashley Barnum there, the popular and pretty girl at school. She is shocked to discover that the girl she once revered as picture perfect also has body issues, even though both girls are actually skinny. In fact, if Ever encountered these girls, she’d be repulsed by their skinniness and eating disorder.

How do you feel about your physical appearance? Have you updated your wardrobe extensively, started working out, or are you simply secure with it? What role has it played in your life?

What Others Think

The old addage, “you shouldn’t care too much about what others think,” is coupled with the cliche of “it’s easier said than done.” To some degree, we all concern ourselves with how others perceive us, whether extensively or minimally.

The Evolution of Bruno Little More by Benjamin Hale follows the story of the world’s first English speaking chimpanzee. In Bruno’s memoir, he details his struggles between civilizing himself among humanity and keeping true to his primitive roots.

The more self aware he becomes, the more he begins to worry about how others perceive him. Since a ridiculous standard is forced upon him, being the first talking chimp and all, it becomes increasingly difficult to contain his baser urges while maintaing the eloquent and intelligent personality he has developed since acquiring language.

When our self perception clashes with what others think of us, it creates a divide between staying true to ourselves or conforming to the crowd–or in some masterfully crafted instances, finding a middle ground.

How much do you concern yourself with external opinions? Has it caused you to change your behaviour or have you developed any habits that help ward off the temptation to please others?

Stick around for…

Crafting a Character Part 2:  It’s All in the Past

Crafting a Character Part 3:  A Better Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

Goal, Motivation, Conflict

One of the most important driving forces of fiction is characterization. Without character, there is no story.

The reason why many of us are drawn to the art of storytelling (be it from film, music, TV, theatre or books) is because we like to relate to the characters who have clear goals, motivations, and conflicts to help build their character arcs.

It may not be clear to them–at least not right away at the beginning of a story–but as an audience we can easily identify with these concepts because as human beings, we all have unique goals, motivations, and conflicts to be confronted with in our own lives.

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Writing is just like anything in life, it not only requires practice to make perfect, but also preparation. You can not just run a marathon without having gone on your own runs every morning to exercise them leg muscles. Well, you could, but you would most likely not have the endurance or capacity to do so. If you do, then you are a unique super human whom I will bow down to and feed grapes to from now until the end of eternity.

To help prepare your character for the journey that lies ahead, you outline their goals, motivations, and conflicts in a chart that looks a little something like this:GMC Chart

This GMC Chart is designed to help you gain clarity in undertanding exactly what your character wants, why they want it, and the conflicts that will arise to help challenge them. Without pressure, challenge or conflict, characters cannot grow. Think about your own life for a second and all the hardships you may have faced. Can you imagine who you would be today without having had overcome them?

“Pressure makes diamonds.” – George S. Patton

Let’s take a quick look at the purpose of each section of the chart and why they’re important.

WANTS TO/GOAL: This is where the clear cut desire is stated and outlines what the character wants to achieve. At the internal level, it’s what they would like to achieve at a personal level and  how they will grow as a person. The external level describes the effect they would like to have in their immediate world, or the entire world at large depending on the size and scale of your story.

BECAUSE/MOTIVATION: Why does the character have this desire? Internally, what do they struggle with or wish to improve on within themselves? Externally, what is it about their current circumstances that drive them to action? Once a goal is set, they need to have logical (sometimes illogical) reasons why they desire these things or we won’t understand why we should root for them in the first place.

BUT/CONFLICT: The but is the meat of fiction (hehehe) where the character will face obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. Internally, what holds them back from moving forward? Ego, lack of confidence, vanity? Externally, what are the circumstances in the empirical world that stand in their way? Could it be a family member, a friend, or a flat out foe? This is the most essential aspect of a story for the reasons I stated above. Without challenge, there is no growth.

SO: And finally, the so describes the actions the character will take in order to overcome (or attempt to overcome) their challenges and grow from them. Internally, what will be the ultimate personal growth gained from this battle of attrition? Externally, what effect will their overall actions have on their friends, family, and the other characters in their proximity?

Have they gotten what they wanted, or have their desires changed throughout the course of the  story?

Let’s take a quick look at that question in greater depth. Typically, a character should have a desire that gets fulfilled at the end of the story in a linear fashion. The internal and external goals stay the same and they receive the right challenges they need to achieve their goals.

However, sometimes the internal goals change while the external goal stays the same. For instance, a man who was bullied in school may have the external goal to become a teacher for the internal purpose of regaining his lost power. Then maybe he confronts one of the bullies from his past and that bully actually apologizes for his past behaviour. And so this character may remain a teacher, but instead of using his position for power, his internal goal transforms into being an inspiring source of education for his students.

On the flip side, sometimes the internal goal may stay the same, but the external effect will change like for a woman who’s internal goal is to help people. She may start out as a real-estate agent and fulfill her goal by helping people find afforadble housing in areas convenient to their lifestyles, but as the story goes onward, she loses interest in flipping houses. Though since she still has the yearning burning desire to help people, perhaps she becomes a self-help author and motivational speaker to inspire people on how to live instead of where to live.

How to apply this to your life: 

The GMC chart is both used for the long-term and short-term clarification for what drives a character. A GMC chart can be made for an entire story’s overall narrative, but it’s also recommended that writers chart out the GMC for each chapter so there’s logical cohesion and progression throughout the story. You can do the same for the overall trajectory of your life and help understand your own goals and motivations, and then help identify the buts that butt in your way of achieving them. If you know what prevents you from your goals, you’ll have better understanding in what you need to do to overcome those conflicts.

“Knowing is half the battle!” – GI Joe. 

 Why this exercise is important:

Like writing the narrative of a character’s life, you can take control over your own with the GMC chart by identifying what your desires are and why they are important to you. Take the time to understand what’s holding you back in terms of your own inner-critic, as well the outer-critics in your life, and you can formulate an action plan to overcome them. It may be something as large as cutting poisonous people from your life or attempting to repair and transform your relationships–or it may be something as simple as stepping out of your own way.

 

Download the: GMC Template here!