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The Art of a Good Plot: How to create a character? - Part 1

By THBP

HOW TO CREATE A CHARACTER? - PART 1: EMPATHY



Stories are about someone doing something. And this "someone" is a character. Build and develop your characters are the most important things you must do in your story.  Because he is going to be the vehicle of your story. By the eyes of your characters, we will understand and live the world of your story. In this first part, we will start to understand how to create a character and talk about an important method to catch the public into your story.

Stories are the way we use to teach something about life. You never speak "to be a lazy person is wrong", instead you say "once upon a time, three little pigs decided to build a house. Two of them were lazy and almost died, but the other dedicated himself and then saved the world afterwards". A story will teach us to live.  And the only time the public will learn from a story is when they feel that what happens to the characters can also happen for them. This is why the public must identify themselves with the characters. This is why Naruto has 12 years, and Seyia has 13 years, and Goku is a child, and Luffy has 17 years. Because even if the story speaks about save the world, and destroy buildings, and fight a ninja war,  these stories are being published in a magazine who sells stories for boys of this age. So the protagonists of these stories are boys with the same age. Even if the boys of this age in real world can't really be capable of fight a ninja war or drive a robbot that destroy buildings.

You need to understand that the role of your character is to be the vehicle by which the public will place in the story. You can even make your character a 14 years old boy if you're making a story for 14 years old boys to read. But counting on appearence, age or gender of your characters just to close the story to your public won't take you really far, because this won't define if the public will identify with him or with the story. What will define it is this thing called "Empathy". 

If you're a psychopath with no real feelings or you just never heard about this word, "empathy" is the capacity to share someone's feelings or experience them like it's yours, this way seeing the world and these experiences from another person's point of view. Explaining the relation of empathy and the creation of a character, an alcoholic loved by all called Dan Harmon defined it in the best way possible: "How can you put the public in a place to feel everything a character feels? Easy. Just show them.  You'd have to take a lot of effort to make the public avoid any way to feel empathy for them. It can be a raccoon, a homeless person or the President. Just show them and we will be this character until we have a better option to be. If there is more than one option, the public will choose the one they identify the most. In doubt, they follow the "feeling of pity". Show a raccoon being chased by a bear, we are the raccoon. Show us a room full of diplomats. The President walk to this room and stumbles in the carpet. We are the President. When you feel pity of someone, you're using the same part of the brain you use when you identify with this person". In the other words, you're feeling empathy.

There is a very famous TV Serie called "Breaking Bad", where a failed chemistry teacher decides to synthesise drugs and ends up turning into one of the most important drug dealers of the country. This guy is the protagonist but he's responsible for the murdering of many people, besides the fact he was creating drugs and screwing up the lifes of thousands of people. By logic, you wouldn't like him. But Vince Gilligan wrote the series in a way the public understands the reasons why the guy made all that, even if they did not agree with what he was making. In other words, the empathy the public had for Walter was bigger than the scorn they had for him. But how exactly the writer managed to do that? In the first episode of the series, we learn that Walter White is a very boring chemistry teacher, he works in a car wash, he is constantly humiliated by his terrible students, he's mocked by the douchebag of his brother-in-law, and then he discover he has an inoperable cancer, getting worried with the fact that when he dies, he will drop his family with no money at all. Our empathy for this character is enough to watch five seasons while he turns into a criminal that killed a lot of people and ruined his own family. Now, how exactly can we care so much for a person who is taking such horrible decisions? Because if the bear is chasing the raccoon, we are the raccoon. If a room is filled with people and someone stumbles in the floor, we are this person. We identify with the loser one, with the person who has problems. Because we have problems. 

In the documentary about John Hughes, the movie investigates how his movies (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club) still exciting their public even after decades of their release. A person can say that she never stole a bank, like in "Inside Man", or never fought martial arts, like in "Matrix", but she already skipped school, like in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". His movies were about people and problems that existed in the lifes of everyone. This is the key to create great characters. It's about remember that the success of your story will depend on the public's identification with the characters you created. They want to see themselves in your story, because stories will teach us how to live, and if I think that one story is not applicable in my life, if I don't identify myself in the character or with what he wants, I don't want to know about this story.

Of course, now I imagine you're wondering "But I love Fast and Furious and I didn't even took my driver's license yet!". Then let's put this in another way. When you're developing your characters, imagine they are someone who haves what you would like to have, but with problems that you already have. Do you know Spider-Man? He's a famous super hero. He's super strong, he's super smart, he got superpowers, but what's his problem? "Rent". He always need to find a way to pay his accounts. He's like the Batman who gets only the minimun wage.  If you watch "Legally Blond", the character Elle Woods is super popular, loved, happy, she haves the biggest self esteem the world has ever seen. But what's her problem? She's in love with an asshole and she thinks she's never going to be happy again if she doesn't stay with him.  If you watch Breaking Bad, you will see Walter White has all problems: his family is boring, his son has special needs, he's incredibly boring aswell, he's constantly humiliated, he works in two jobs and yet he's not close to be rich, the enterprise he helped to establish turned his friends trillionaires and he discover his health is on the trash.  These are the kind of problems everyone might have, and nobody actually want to have them. Even so, he still have something everyone would like to have: he's incredibly good at what he does. He's never affraid someone can discover he's a fraud. When the subject is to make what he knows, he's always 100% secure about himself. He can't deal with a family party without being mocked but doing what he knows he's the best of the world and he knows it. His capacity to trust himself is something everyone would like to have.

If you watch "Evangelion", Shin is a kid that knows how to drive a huge robbot, but his father hates him. What good is it if you can drive a huge robbot but you have problems in your family? Simba is happy eating insects but he has problems with his family. Luke is a Jedi but he has problems with his family. Michael Corleone was a good man, but he has problems with his family. Clark Kent is an invencible God, but he has problems with his family. Bruce Wayne is a millionaire ninja but he has problems with his family. If you want the public to identify with your character, you need to show them how much he's a poor bastard. He can be a millionaire with all the power for himself, but inside of him, there is a missing piece. This is the basics to create a character that catches your public. It's trying to take empathy for those who are playing, reading or listening your story.



Now get out of here and go start writting.

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Startdate
Apr 17 '19
Last Update
Apr 17 '19
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