Character Part 4: Character Web

Character Web

You want the story you’re telling to feel connected. You want it to feel organic and whole. One way to do this, is through the “character web.”

By designing a character web, you create cohesion among your various characters. They all feel like an organic part of your story. All of them connected to one another somehow.

How do you do this?

You pick one trait that all the characters can share.

This could be one of the character traits we’ve already covered:

For instance, all of your characters could be connected by the same flaw.

Perhaps they all have intimacy issues.

Then throughout the story, you have each character demonstrate a unique version or expression of this same general flaw.

  • Unwilliness to commit.
  • Fear of loss, which causes constant anxiety, which causes problems for the relationship.
  • Needy behavior.
  • Too caught up in an idealized version their partner to see the real state of their connection.

These are all expressions of the same core flaw: intimacy issues.

Each character would have distinct and specific challenges in the story, but the baseline similarity gives the whole cast of characters a sense of belonging to the same idea, the same theme, the same story.

Or maybe you have all of your characters follow the same character arc:

It’s a coming of age story.

And through the course of the story, each character matures in their own way. This maturation will be caused by different experiences, different moments, but they’ll all come out more “grown up” in the end. This gives the characters a shared element that connects them all in a web.

Or maybe give all of your characters the same ghost:

Then you can go ahead and play out the different perspectives or opinions they all have about this shared event in their past.

Say a group of soldiers all survived the same battle. And now some guy they thought was dead, has come back for revenge.

Any character trait can be used to create a web.

It just depends on what works best for your story, what trait your really want to focus on, and which one can best be integrated into all of your characters.

But once you create that web, you’ve now given your story a powerful sense of cohesion and wholeness. A sense that everything here is a natural part of the overall story.



Character Part 3: Ghost & Passion

Character Part 3: Ghost & Passion

When puttin’ together your character, you’re gonna wanna give ’em a:

Ghost

A “ghost” is the result of life experience. If you’ve ever danced with the darker side of life, you’ve got yourself a ghost or two.

A ghost is something from a character’s past that actively haunts them.

A trauma, a heartbreak, a regret, a sin. In terms of a story, the more profound this ghost, the better.

If the ghost is used as a toss away character trait, like:

“By the way this guy spent some time in jail.”

But that fact is never really used in the story – then it becomes meaningless and it’s a waste of a ghost.

The ghost has to be actively useful in the story. Actively haunting them. It has to have some kind of effect on the events at hand. Not just a footnote.

The ghost will define your character in the hearts and minds of your audience. They’ll feel their pain. Connect with their lingering sadness and regret. It sets the theme that shapes your character’s existence in the story.

What are some examples of a main character’s ghost?

  • They had a child who died.
  • They met the love of their life and let them get away.
  • They made questionable choices during wartime.
  • They watched their loved one slowly waste away from an incurable condition.
  • They had an enormous career opportunity and completely screwed it up.
  • They abandoned their family.
  • They failed to help a stranger dying on the side of the road, and have felt deep guilt ever since.

Giving your character a ghost, goes a long way toward building them up as a believable person, with their own messy history.

Passion

The flip side of this ghost idea is passion.

Giving your character a “passion” gives them a specific expression of something they love.

It’s what drives them. It’s what pushes them to stretch their limits, take a chance, sacrifice their very lives if necessary.

Their passion pushes them toward their future, instead of dwelling on the past. The way a character might with their ghost.

A passion could be anything:

  • A person
  • An idea
  • An object
  • A philosophy
  • A spouse
  • A child
  • The pursuit of justice
  • A business
  • A sport
  • Music
  • Art

Anything the character cares a great deal about. Anything they derive great joy and satisfaction from.

As long as your character feels strongly about it and is actively driven or inspired by it – you have a passion.



Character Part 2: Arc

Character Part 2: Arc

An “arc” tracks the change a character goes through from the beginning of the story to the end.

A character can’t go through an ordeal without some kind of change. It’s inevitable. And that’s what your story is, something happening, an ordeal, in the lives of your characters.

An arc is the clearly defined evolution of your character as a consequence of having gone through the ordeal.

It begins with who they were before the story began, and ends with who they are coming out the other side of it.

How do you do it?

How do you execute a character arc? There are a bunch of different ways. But the most effective and straight forward method:

Track one of your main character’s flaws and show how they learn and develop to overcome it.

Now, your story doesn’t always have to go this way:

Maybe your main character doesn’t overcome this flaw – like in a tragedy.

Or if it helps the theme of your story, maybe your main character learns to accept his flaw as a fixed part of his being. His arc is to go from fighting his nature, to accepting it as unchangeable.

There is also the rare “anti-character-arc.”
This is where your character has no real need for growth, and thus doesn’t change at all. While everything and everyone changes around them.

These are all options.

Let’s take a closer look at a simple set up:

Your main character overcoming a flaw.

First, you have to establish the flaw at the beginning of your story.
Let’s say a moral one like: racism. Your main character is a racist.

The events of your story then force this character to hang out with someone of a different race. They bond, they become friends, and finally at the end of the story the character learns that his racism is deeply flawed and must be abandoned.

He goes from racist –> to not racist.

This is a very basic model. One that we’ll get into a bit deeper when we talk about the “moral” cubby.

But for now, we can see that this example may be straight forward, but nevertheless – it’s a solid character arc. The character has changed in a concrete way, as a consequence of going through the story.

No matter the kind of arc you’re using, as long as the character starts the story one way, and ends the story another way, you’ve got yourself an arc.



Character Part 1: Individual and Moral Flaw

Character Part 1: Individual & Moral Flaw

Crafting characters in a story is a complex process.

Essentially, you are creating a life – from the ground up.

A person – with a lifetime of experiences, personality, quirks, hopes, dreams, attitudes, and opinions. But most importantly, you are creating a character who thinks and feels.

She is a living, breathing person who never stops reacting to the world around her. She never stops formulating these opinions, never stops having these experiences, these attitudes. Therefore, she is always changing, she is constantly evolving by the very nature of being alive and being active in the world of your story.

There are two types of characters in a story:

  • The main character

  • The supporting characters

While the following traits apply to both types of characters, your main character will be our primary focus.

Now, aside from creating a believable person that seems real and authentic, you are creating a character that serves a purpose in your story.

And with limited time to tell your story, you want to be quick and efficient in communicating to your audience who this person is.

Character Traits

This is where the character traits come in – a collection of attributes that every person has. Running deeper than just surface data like name, gender, age, etc.

These traits are:

These traits are universal – every person possesses them to some degree. And they’re not just fun facts or small details. They serve as an active part of the story.

Let’s take a look at the first two traits:

Individual Flaw

A weakness possessed by a character that affects just the character.

No one else is hurt by this flaw in any direct way. It’s something specifically hurting just the character who has it.

What’s that look like?

An illness like cancer, an addiction like being hooked on meth, or an emotional flaw like guilt.

These things can hurt others, but the direct palpable difficulty is hurting just the main character who has the problem.

Moral Flaw

A flaw that does affect others.

It has a direct negative impact on the people connected to your character.

What’s that look like?

Racism, sexism, prejudice, criminal activity, infidelity, deception.

These are problems that actively cause difficulty for the people around our main character. You could almost think of this as a “social flaw.”

To achieve a well constructed character, the the individual flaw, and the moral flaw, should be related.

They should smoothly flow together, but still remain separate ideas.

The more they differentiate, but still seem organically connected, – the stronger the characterization.

Like an addiction that causes your character to engage in criminal activities. They are directly related, but still separate ideas.

Keep in mind, these flaws don’t have to be extreme. They should be appropriate for the story that you’re telling.

These flaws play an active part in your story. They set the stage. They give our main character somewhere to go. Some way in which they can grow, change, and evolve.

That leads us to our next trait…