Friday, April 26, 2013

PPWC13: Character Building with Tony and Dr. Phil

This workshop was led by Jaxine Daniels.  Although these are my notes, the workshop content is attributed to Jaxine and the participants who offered input and discussion.

"I believe that all good fiction is character-driven." - Jaxine Daniels (and a lot of other people besides)

The Question:  What makes people tick?

The Answer: Goals, Motivations, & Conflicts (GMC, Debra Dixon)

Good story forces characters to redefine their beliefs, values, and priorities.  Ask yourself:  What would make someone behave this way?  What would they have to believe to do that?

Discomfort = Conflict
  • Your job as a writer is to torture your characters.
  • Put them in positions/situations they wouldn't ordinarily find themselves in.
  • It all has to be motivated and catered specifically to that character.
  • Remember that villains are people too.  They have their own GMC.  They believe they are the heroes of their own story.  
Dr. Phil's Life Law #3
People do what works.  Everything we do is for a payoff. 

Payoffs can be:

(1) Monetary: easy to measure
(2) Psychological: acceptance, approval, praise, love, companionship, greed, punishment, safety, security, fulfillment
(3) Spiritual: peace, sense of connectedness with a higher power, righteousness, morality
(4) Physical: sense of well-being, eating right, exercising, intimidating others, preoccupation with own body (or the body of another), self-afflicted pain
(5) Achievement: accomplishment, recognition, a job well-done
(6) Social: feeling a part of a group, contribution, leadership, obligation, craving social acceptance

*Most people approach payoff through the path of least resistance.  Sometimes it's just easier not to.

"People go to far greater lengths to avoid pain than they do to obtain what they desire." - Tony Robbins

The anticipation of pain can often be greater than the pain itself.  Intense pain can be a motivator for characters to change.

Values can affect wants and desires.  They are more vague than goals; once they are more focused, they become goals. Each of these (listed below) has associated behaviors.  We all define values define values differently.  What does it mean to be free?  To be secure?  To fail or succeed?

Positive Values (what they seek): Love, freedom, intimacy, security, adventure, independence, power, success, comfort, health, growth, happiness, fun, creativity

Negative Values (what they seek to avoid): Rejection, frustration, failure, humiliation, loneliness, guilt, jealousy

Most people are motivated by fear.  Fear can be someone or something threatening a person's values.

Recipe for Great Conflict:
Pit one good value against another.
  • compassion vs honesty
  • contentment vs adventure
  • power vs intimacy
  • justice vs truth
  • security vs happiness
  • truth vs loyalty
Beliefs tend to be emotional and extreme.  They can be illogical and not well-thought out.  We show our beliefs by what we say, how we act, our internal dialogs, our external relationships.  Not every character needs a traumatic childhood.  But everyone carries baggage.  Little things make up most of our scars.  Focus on the heroes' belief system by showing them in action.

Currency is what matters to a person.  Women express their feelings in words.  Men use their own currency.  Men will give to those they love in their own currency - whether they value that or not.  Figure our what he values and then watch and see if he's giving that or not.

Men are highly competitive.  They never stop wanting to be the knight in shining armour that saves the damsel in distress.

Example:  What values can come crashing together? A knight wants to take care of the damsel.  But the damsel wants to take care of herself.

How do we show it?  Visual, auditory, kinesthetic.

"Give your characters dreams worth failing for."

A Note About Writing About Tweens & Young Adults:
Young people haven't quite figured out their own values and beliefs.  They usually carry around their parents' beliefs (or) are rebelling against their parents' beliefs.  Usually, it is a combination of rebellion and owning parent/guardian belief/value system.

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