Step One: Don’t undercook your characters

I know for the past few weeks, I’ve been ranting about the essential questions concerning a “good story.” The first week I talked about why you must have a good story. The second week I gave an example of a “horrible story.” Then last week I got a little bit off topic because I saw someone on Facebook besmirching the good name of story centric video games. 

Well, this week I’m almost done with my “good story” series. This week I’m discussing some of the basic elements of a good story. You know how Forrest Gump said that “Life was like a box of chocolates?” Well, I’m saying that “A story is like baking a cake. It’ll only be good if you use the correct ingredients in the correct measurements.” 

I know, Gump’s slogan is a bit easier to remember. Anyway, here are the ingredients to a “good story” as well as some examples to look at.

1. Well developed characters. 

Have you ever identified with a character, be it protagonist, antagonist, or even a side character? If so, you’ve experienced a fully fleshed out character that seems to leap from the page (or screen if you’re watching a movie or playing a video game). When you’re writing a character, you have to give them an internal and external motive. An external motive is what drives their story. If you want an example, look at Captain America in the first of his movies Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). The external motive of Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, is that he wants to fight for his country. At the beginning of the film, he keeps getting denied entry into World War II because of his puny size. He even tries to forge papers in order to get into the war. Then, when he finally does get into that experiment and grows into those red, white, and blue tights the program gets shut down and the good captain is relegated to selling war bonds. It’s still helping the war effort, but not in the way that Cap wanted. So what does he do? He goes behind enemy lines in an attempt to save his childhood protector Bucky. When he returns back to base with everyone relatively safe and sound, he achieves his goal of fighting for his country in the second great war. 

But why does he do those things? Why does he go to such great lengths in order to throw himself in front of a storm of bullets? That’s what the internal motive in a character is, it’s the emotional motivator for the physical actions that the character takes. In the case of Captain America, there could be more than just his great sense of right and wrong. It’s also the fact that for his entire life he’s never been the one to win a fight. He’s always had Bucky there to scare away the thugs (which is demonstrated in the beginning of the film). Rogers feels he needs to measure up to average men. So when that enlistment bugle sounds off, that feeling of inadequacy activates in Cap’s soul. That’s what fuels him as he makes his way through boot camp. It’s what drives him to throw himself onto a dummy grenade when all the other “normal” men run and hide. It’s what drives Cap to after the imprisoned men in the Hydra camp when no one else would.

There’s a scene before he goes off to rescue the men. He’s trying to entertain the troops with his usual show and dance routine, but the battle hardened men aren’t having any of that, they only want to see the showgirls. So after getting booed off stage, Cap goes off and draws himself as a dancing monkey in a journal. Even though he’s doing something for the war effort, he still doesn’t think that he measures up to the men that booed him. So when he hears that no one, not even the men that were booing him, were going to go on a rescue mission Captain America sees his chance to finally prove himself.

I know what you’re saying, the only reason that Cap went on that one man rescue party is that Bucky was there. That was a large part of it, but even if Bucky wasn’t there, I believe Captain America would have went anyway. 

There’s more than just internal and external motives when it comes to developing a fully fleshed character. There’s other things to consider about the character. What are their flaws, strengths, fears, addictions, obsessions, and what are their physical and mental limits? All of those things must be considered when you’re writing a character because they all contribute to a well developed character. Think about what Indiana Jones would have been like if he didn’t have that fear of snakes? Think about his kindness towards women and how that gets him in more trouble than good. Would we have cared about Indiana Jones if he didn’t have that ability to survive an atomic blast by hiding in a refrigerator even though there’s no possible way he could have survived that fall? Let’s be honest with ourselves, how would he have been able to hold that door shut as the refrigerator tumbled through the air and then on impact? We don’t care though because he’s Indiana Jones!

Okay, so I didn’t think I’d take so long to talk about the first ingredient to a “good story” so I’m going to leave it here and pick up with the next ingredient next week. Stay tuned same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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