Question about a Main Character's motives?

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Question about a Main Character's motives?

#1 Post by orochiwolf » Fri Dec 30, 2011 5:44 am

Let's assume it's near the ending of a story. Towards the end, whatever our hero was pursuing seems to be a little.......out of reach. Now let's assume whatever our hero is pursuing is impossible. Like, truly impossible. Not one of those "Try harder! You can do it!" impossibles, but, simply, impossible. What does he/she do?

Do we just give it to the character? I would think that'd be a bit unnatural to the player, seem forced, or just downright annoying.

Do we make the character suddenly want something else? Remember, it's nearing towards the end, and it might make the character seem rather weak.

I'm kind of at this point in a story I'm jotting down, but it seems the goal for my character is totally unreachable, but he doesn't know it, so he tries anyway.

Any thoughts? :)

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Re: Question about a Main Character's motives?

#2 Post by Kura » Fri Dec 30, 2011 6:13 am

Let your character try. Let him fail. And then ask yourself, is this really the end of the story?

Stories don't all need to end with the hero achieving his goal. The realization that he can never get what he wants is just as valid (whether that means he realizes it and stops trying, or just the audience realizes it and acknowledges that he'll keep trying in vain). A rather cynical ending, but valid.

But maybe the story doesn't end there. You can always let the character pick up the pieces. Suddenly deciding that he wants something else doesn't sound right, no. But trying, failing, realizing that he needs to move on, and then finding a more realistic goal sounds like a great story.
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Re: Question about a Main Character's motives?

#3 Post by orochiwolf » Fri Dec 30, 2011 6:35 am

Hmm... Picking up the pieces sure does seem like an interesting way to keep going. In my mindset, the story had to end right there, but now that I think about it, that'd be a perfect way to get out of this writer's hole/block thingy I'm in.

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Re: Question about a Main Character's motives?

#4 Post by Niki » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:42 am

Maybe although the character didn't achieve his goals in the end, along the way he gained something more valuable than whatever it was -- friends, love, courage, etc. Cheesy, but if done well it's still a satisfying ending. ^^;
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Re: Question about a Main Character's motives?

#5 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Fri Dec 30, 2011 4:48 pm

I'll just copy and paste this from another thread I gave writing advice on concerning character motives.
LateWhiteRabbit wrote:
Gear wrote:Start with your basic idea. Then build a character. I don't mean build a randomly generated character, I mean put together a character whose life has been detailed from birth to present. That's a long process, and the audience will see little of it. But if done right, it will give you a very strong base. Then throw things at that character and see how (s)he reacts to everything. Some things (s)he will react well to. Others, not so much. But test the limits of that character, and you may find some parts of your story writing themselves.
Gear is right.

It sounds to me like the problem you have isn't fleshing out your story, it is that you don't know your characters. If you truly know your characters, if you have made them real people, then you can place them in a situation and you will know what they would do and say. This is what Gear is talking about when he says some parts of your stories will write themselves at that point.

The advice is generally given as - "Put your character in a tree, then throw rocks at them. Put wolves under the tree. Show a lightning storm coming in the distance. Have them discover the tree is infested with deadly snakes. Put what they want on a tree limb that can't support their weight. After you have done all that - then set the tree on fire."

That all sounds funny and extreme, but the point is that good characters and stories require adversity, and everyone in the story must have something they want more than anything, but other stuff keeps getting in the way. The desired object doesn't have to be physical - it could just be something as simple as "I want to live in peace". Now, this is where KNOWING your characters becomes extremely important. Why does the character want to live in peace more than anything else? How will the character react to having their desired goal out of reach? What does your character think, feel, do, and say when the tree they are in has been set on fire?

Let's consider a bank robber character. Does he steal from banks because he wants the money, or is it the thrill he is after? Maybe he just wants to stick it to "the Man". If so, why? If he robs banks for the money, what does he want the money for? Why is he getting the money this way and not some other way? Let's also say that during his bank robberies he goes out of his way not to shoot or hurt anyone. Why? Is it because he doesn't like hurting others, or is it because he is practical, and knows killing someone will just draw down more heat on himself? If you decide it is because he is practical, you can extend that into other areas of his life and character, because you've just discovered one of his personality traits. Now, take it farther. How is he going to feel and react when he HAS to shoot someone during a robbery? Will he feel bad, or only annoyed that he was forced to complicate his life?

You need to do this kind of brainstorming for all your characters, and take it so far that you know them as well as yourself. Do they smoke? Why? Because they think it makes them look cool? Because they tried cigarettes as a teen due to peer pressure and got addicted? Because their father or mother smoked? What brand do they smoke? Why? Do they smoke those Marlboro's because they like to think of themselves as a rugged cowboy? Or maybe because that's the brand their father smoked, and it reminds them of him?

Gear is right again in saying that most of this - like 80-90% of it, will not be in your story. But it should inform everything you do and write with that character. Your readers will never know WHY your character smokes, but they will see a consistency shining through, and see your character as a real person. It will be easier for you to write, and your characters will naturally differentiate themselves.
purple_pockets wrote:Hey, thank you so much for all the great suggestions :D
I am an aspiring indie game creator, and I love a game with a strong story. Unfortunately, I haven't had much practice in creative writing. I spend most of my writing time of essays for school.
I was just wondering if any of you have a good method for coming up with a character :?:
Should I fill out a character chart? A timeline?
Do what others have suggested, and come up with a story "hook" first. Like our example above - let's say you have an idea for a story about a bank robber who goes on the run from the law.

Then sit down and ask yourself questions about the characters you need. Why does this bank robber rob banks? How does he rob them? Etc. etc. Nearly every answer you come up with should provoke another question for you to investigate, as I demonstrated above. So you decide your bank robber wears a rubber President mask. Why? Don't say - 'to hide his identity' - because that is too obvious. Dig deeper. Is it because your bank robber is political? Is he trying to make a statement? Maybe he just doesn't prepare much and uses what is around him, so he stole a Halloween mask from his kid brother. Maybe he's just a big fan of the movie Pointe Break. Again, if so, why?

Follow the rabbit hole as deep as you can go, then start over on a different aspect of their personality. One suggestion is to write scenes or interviews with the character that have no place in the story, but are only exercises for you to get to know your character. Imagine if you bank robber is captured, and the police have him in interrogation. Conduct that interview with yourself as the detective - pepper your character with questions. Why did you do it? How come you shot that teller? ("I didn't shoot that teller! She tried to grab the gun and it went off! I didn't mean to hurt anybody . . . . etc.)

Get to know your character intimately. Once you know everything about them, your stories will flow much easier, because all you have to do is throw an obstacle or adversity at them and you will KNOW how they would react.

Sometimes you'll discover surprising things - for instance, you may discover that who you thought your main character is, is NOT the main character. Maybe their sidekick or the lawman chasing them has the more interesting story, the most effect on things. Maybe that OTHER character is who the story should be about.

I've often found that when I get stalled in a story, I'm telling it from the wrong point of view. For instance, I once wrote a story about a girl who gets mistakenly shot by a man she was dating. She wakes up after a couple of years from what doctors assumed would be a permanent coma, but she has some amnesia around the incident. Nobody knows who shot her, and she ends up in a position where she is working around the former lover who shot her. He doesn't seem to want anything to do with her now, however, and she is devastated. Slowly her memories are returning though, and it will eventually come out that it was him that shot her.

I thought it was a pretty good little short story, but I kept getting stuck in the middle - until I realized that the girl didn't have the most interesting story. It was her lover, the one who shot her, that has the most at stake, the most drama in the story. Here is a man that believed for two years he had essentially killed the love of his life. He is torn up, but can't confess without ruining his life. He is a wreck, but eventually writes her off for dead, assuming she'll never wake up - only now she has! The panic AND relief he must feel at the same time! But she doesn't remember he shot her, and she is trying to date and love him again. He still has feelings for her, but the guilt is destroying him inside every time she smiles at him. Then he finds out her memory is slowly coming back. Any day now, she'll discover the truth. What does he do? What does he DO?!

You see? It suddenly became a much better story by changing the main character, and the story suddenly started writing itself, with no "blocks" or "stalls".

So, that was super long-winded, but I hope it helped.
As to your particular question, what your character does in the face of an impossible goal will say everything about that character and who they are. It is a defining character choice that will illuminate how they think, feel, and see the world.

-Will the character curse the wasted time already spent and become angry at the world for denying him his goal?
-Will the character be shattered emotionally by the revelation that their dream will never happen? Will they fall into a depression?
-Will the character quietly and calmly accept the circumstances and turn their efforts elsewhere? I.e. are they practical?
-A bittersweet ending could have the character "tilting at windmills", continuing to pursue their goal or dream with all their heart, knowing it is impossible, but refusing to give up.

Get to know your character, and your character will let you know what they will do.

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