Character IS Plot

In order to have a story play out, you need a main character. No matter what a story focuses on, the question always remains “Whose story is being told?”
To use Toy Story as an example, it would seem to misleading to say “its about toys who come to life” because that describes setting and not the story that occurs within the idea. Toy Story, truly, is about a sentient toy cowboy who faces the possibility of being replaced and abandoned. Note: In this description, it makes it clear who the plot is about and how it directly affects them.

A character, minimally, is defined by four qualities:

Want – the thing they imagine being or having if they could choose their own Happy Ending. (Example: Woody wants to be the most popular toy)

Fear – What is it above all that the character believes would sabotage this so called Happy Ending? (For Woody, it is being replaced)

Inner Struggle – what is it about the character that makes them feel incomplete? What is it about the character that trips them up? (For Woody, he is arrogant and selfish)

P.O.V – what is it the character perceives about themselves or others that cause the character to act this way? (For Woody, he believes that Andy loves him above all and that anything short of that makes him worthless)

Whether then the character happens to the plot or the plot happens to the character, something shakes up the characters world enough that these four qualities can be reverted outwards as the character goes on a journey thus:

Want = Goal – How does the character think they can get their Happy Ending? This is what causes the character to take action in order to win. (For Woody, he must regain his popularity – first with Andy by eliminating Buzz, but then with his friends by retrieving Buzz)

Fear = Stakes – How is the character punished for their failures. or their success? (For Woody, this involves being Lost, hated by his friends, and stuck with the very competition he despises)

Inner Struggle = Conflict – How does what the character is going through get in the way? Woody can’t quite regain his status until he drops his selfishness and rescues Buzz. (This can also be external but they all have the purpose of amplifying and challenging Woody’s inner struggle: Buzz is preferred to Woody, Sid treats toys as worthless)

P.O.V = Motivation – How does what the character believes trigger certain emotions and responses that drive them to want or fear or struggle with the above? (For Woody, the movie actively starts off with showing just how much focus, love and attention Woody personally receives from Andy above all of the other toys)

All of these things prove that story structure is nothing but ‘where to put events’ when really, character and story go hand in hand – it isn’t necessarily that plot happens to character, but characters happen to themselves and the events they trigger are referred to as The Plot. These qualities ensure that characters keep the plot moving but also ensure that they are held back enough that the story is not truly over until they either come to terms with these qualities, or (in the case of a tragic ending) be permanently punished for failing to do so. It is for this reason that a lot of theories tend to resolve with “Who Am I?” but I like to think of it as “Who Do I Choose To Be Once I Have Met Myself”


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