Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Monday Musings: Find what drives your character

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 29•10

Weigh in on Saturday: 3 lbs lost.  Victory!

When I was in college I took one acting class.  I had to fulfill a fine arts requirement, and it seemed like fun.  During the class, the instructor had me fill out a chart for the person I was acting out (Olive madison, the female version of Oscar Madison in the Female version of The Odd Couple).  The chart was a personality type chart that was supposed to help me determine how the character would move (extrovert, large personal space, lots of body movement). 

A few years later, I started reading self help books so that I could understand other people.  It’s a good exercise to help craft complex characters.  I immediately found a version of my character chart in a personality book.  Instead of describing the way the character’s moved, it described people as one of 4 personality traits.  The two charts were pretty similar.

I bring all of that up to bring up my next point.  One thing that every book on personality has ever agreed on is this: People (or characters in the case of your stories) have one thing in common.  They’ve got a need in their lives that they’re trying to fill, and the drive to fill that need shapes their character. 

That need isn’t always expressed the same way.  But if you can figure out what drives your character and how they fill that need, you’ve gone a long way toward figuring out their interactions with others, their motivations and quite a few other things that shape a character.

I’m going to bring up Lost again, because my husband and I are re-watching the series.  Three of the major characters in the show who recieve a lot of attention early on are Jack, Sawyer and Locke.  Each of them are shaped in different ways by their interactions with their fathers (What is it with J.J. Abrams and dads?). 

Jack’s dad tells him outright when he’s a child that "You don’t have what it takes."  Jack’s major angst is the conflict in himself.  His gut instincts are hero instincts, but every action is tinged with the base knowledge that his dad put in him that he’s doomed to failure.  He will do everything he can if he is assured of success.  But he has meltdowns and gives up when the chance of success is uncertain.  And then he’ll sit on the beach and stare mournfully out into the ocean. Jack is still trying to fill the hole in his life with something.

I don’t think the series ended up this way, but early in season 1, J.J. Abrams set up the show as if there would be a conflict between Locke and Jack.  If Jack was the group leader, Locke was the shaman figure.  He was a man of faith because he believed in a very tangible way that a miracle occurred.  But Locke and Jack had a lot in common as well.  Locke also had a dad who told him that he didn’t have what it takes. (In a very roundabout way when he tricked Locke out of one of his kidneys and then discarded him).  Locke’s rejection by his dad put him in a tailspin that eventually led to his being paralyzed.  His way of fighting back was to embrace a kind of shamanistic survivalist ethos. His suddenly being able to walk again was confirmation by a higher power that he did, indeed, have what it takes.  Lock filled the hole in his life with spiritualism.

Lastly, there is Sawyer.  Sawyer’s dad killed his mother and himself when sawyer was 9.  All of Sawyer’s actions since then revolve around never letting anyone close again.  He is still very much a little boy inside, afraid that if something fills the hole in his life, it will just get ripped away and hurt again.  As a result, all of Sawyer’s actions revolve around pushing people away.  He acts the part of the heel in every way he possibly can. 

These three personality types embody this issue to the point where it jumped out at me, but every other character on the show exhibits some question in their lives that drives them.  For example: Kate manipulates others so that she can have the control she never had with her father and Charlie turns to drugs to fill the hole left by his brother.

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