Allow me to procrastinate for a moment. I’ve got a problem. I’m a hundred pages into a revision and I need to motivate my character to take important steps that will completely alter the outcome of her life.
Just like it is for any of us, the moment a character decides to make a significant change in her life is a moment of great nobility. How will she get there? What will it take? And how will that impact others? In real life, these changes are (hopefully) more gradual and progressive. In drama, they are always sudden and traumatic.
At this point, it’s good to remember the way Robert McKee distinguishes “character” from “characterization.” Characterization is the superficial ways in which we communicate who we are to others. Your hunter’s camouflage baseball hat, the red soles of your Christian Louboutin heels, the restaurant’s you choose to go to, each is an expression of your characterization.
Character–the deep YOU– is what emerges under pressure, when there are only two choices and both are bad. Which makes a lot of sense when you consider that the greek word for character is Ethos which is the root of “Ethics,” the study of the good.
So back to my protagonist. She has just lost everything trying to define herself. She took a risk and it didn’t pay off. She’s gone running back to the familiar, when what she really wants is to break free.
My first challenge is to define the force of antagonism that will take her from the state of being comfortable to being uncomfortable. Then raise the stakes. Put her in the spot of having to choose between two bad options. The best way to discover this is to inhabit my character, contemplate her emotional experience, and feel what she feels or at least approximate what she is feeling.
Easy…right? I wish…
The obstacles that occur in the composition of an imaginative work are sometimes referred to as “writer’s block.” As the writer fashions her world, problems of motivation, logic, character, and plot arise. How you solve these problems not only alters the shape a literary work will take, but it also shapes the writer. The great ones often discover that the problem contains the solution.
The flaws of a literary work mirror the flaws of the writer. One must have faith in the work in order to discover the work.
But enough procrastination. I’ve got to get this girl free…
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