Pressure Your Characters

The whole idea of a protagonist, the thing they want, the conflicts that get in the way, and the risk in the very attempt to get it, is all leading up to one thing: a character choice. Choice makes character for it reveals everything deep down in one final motion; the final choice is like the final bet of a poker game, once every option has been exhausted you finally see what a character truly believes in and what they’re really willing to risk their entire chance on.

In order to do this however, we need to pressure our characters. Make sure that whatever their goal is, they are desperate enough for, so that every time conflict arises they do not just move on to something else; another way to look at it is whatever the character wants, they believe will improve them, almost to perfection. It will literally give them a happy ending, or at least an absolutely no-doubt-about-it happier life than what came before even if they previously believed they were happy, and thus giving  up on that goal is to give up on themselves. This should be the sacrifice that this character is making, and so any final choice that involves giving up on their goal is still seen as the death of their old self, only because it is a final choice it is seen as an improvement towards the true happy ending – in which case the character often has a secret need underneath their goal (and it often contradicts their goal entirely). We must then make sure that the conflict and stakes keep the character being an inch away from total failure at all times, lest they become content with waiting or doing something else and the goal loses its weight.

The pressure is something a lot of stories miss or drop the ball on. Writers want their characters to be “like-able” because if audiences don’t care then the final choice doesn’t have any impact at all. So we over-power our protagonists, show them off and try to impress, but then these characters feel above us somehow; distanced, because they don’t struggle, we can’t relate to people who win all the time because life doesn’t work like that, and we write as wishful thinking rather than relateablility. We watch certain genres to relate to certain values or goals (eg. if an audience member wants romance, they relate to romantic characters, but if an audience wants something pointless and silly, they relate to comedic characters) and it is true here too. In order to “like” a character, it isn’t specifically about their traits but merely what they stand for. If they want what we want, struggle like we do and we relate to the risk they’re taking, then it’s very easy to get vicariously invested in the characters life, so their revelations become our revelations and that is what makes the final choice – the whole point of story – resonate. Pressure is what keeps both the character and audience on their toes and keeps both character and audience on a simultaneously journey through life at its best (and worst).

 

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