No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The 3 Cs of Character

For storytellers, this sentence is as important as it is simple:

A person with a particular characteristic goes through conflict and is changed.

That's your story, right there, buckeroo. A character, a conflict, a change. These three elements give you your beginning (character), middle (conflict), and end (change).

Now comes the part where I pick it to death for hidden meaning, me being the over-analysing, left-brained ape that I am.


We learn about the protagonist's 'particular characteric' early. That's because typically the protagonist is tested at the Act One end crisis, and the particular characteristic makes thing a LOT worse instead of fixing the problem. Oh, to heck with it — let's just go ahead and call the characteristic exactly what it is: the hero's flaw.

The hero's flaw is the thing that makes us shake our heads and groan: "Geez, he's his own worst enemy!" It's the thing restraining the hero from reaching his or her true potential. In some way it's also the thing fueling the external conflict going on around the hero.

The hero may or may not be aware of this character flaw. Does Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets know he's a righteous A-hole? Of course he does. Arguably it makes the character arc more powerful: the hero can see the problem but is powerless (or refuses) to correct it. There ain't gonna be a whole lot of internal struggle going on if the hero can't see a problem with his own behaviour.

As a guideline, you'll be aiming to spin this characteristic 180 degrees by the end of the story. That task is one of the many joys of creation, because you get to play the eeevil genius, rubbing your hands together and gurgling a throaty muhahaHAHAHAHAHA while you plot to transform your naive farmboy into a victorious knight, your suffering servant into a graceful princess, your arrogant king into humble farmer. Storylines with those beginnings and endings have been told millions of times -- the difference lies in the stuff that happens in between.


Conflict happens when there is pressure to change the characteristic. Few of us willingly change just for the heck of it. Something has to shake us out of our comfy hammock. Something gets in the Hero's way, or the Hero gets in the way of something. The status quo cannot hold and conflict is the inevitable result.

Naturally, in trying to maintain the status quo, the hero will fall back on behaviours that worked previously. The flaw could not have survived thus far without the protagonist nurturing and sustaining it with a supporting framework of behaviours and attitudes, reinforced and refined over time.

All of that is no good now. The hero faces this new rising conflict and can resolve it only by changing his/her flawed characteristic.


Resolving the flaw frees the protagonist to act authentically. This moment of honest, enlightened action is the key to resolving the external conflict.

Even if the world returns to the way it was prior to the conflict, the hero is irrevocably transformed forever. At the very least, the hero exhibits a new set of behaviours and beliefs that replace the flawed ones.

Change makes your story meaningful. Without it, the journey is meaningless.

You can begin crafting a story based on any one or more of those three elements. It might be an idea for a character, an exciting action scene, a gangbuster climax. But at some point, you'll need to add the missing elements and figure out how they fit together. If you reach a point during your storycrafting where you've lost your focus and the story is floundering (writers block), go back and review the 3 Cs of your main character. That one simple sentence will lead you back on track.


1 comment:

oneslackmartian said...

thanks, man! was a good kick in the pants.

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