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Category: Mechanics

Character Dynamics

Article length: 2500 words (preview 600/wds)

The adept writer understands character and character arcs (that’s you dummy).

In a single hero story, this is pretty straight forward, but in the multiple main character, or ensemble cast story, a more advanced aspect arises, often overlooked or misunderstood. I speak of Character Dynamics.

Not to be misunderstood with writing “dynamic (multi-faceted, active, engaging) characters”… but rather the the force and relationship between characters that stimulates narrative development, or more specifically, change between them.

Of course Character Dynamics exists between all characters, whenever one character interacts with one another… but where minor characters are concerned the dynamic is important but momentary… with multiple main character stories: buddy stories, team stories, larger ensemble pieces, Character Dynamics become a recurring pattern and a primary consideration in driving the narrative.

Character Dynamics are ultimately about conflict.

From the Writer’s Guide to Comics; “Conflict is opposition. It can appear in the form of opposing ideas, arguments, or actions.”

You most certainly already know this… but this is only HALF the equation.

Character Dynamics are also about the harmony when conflict is resolved. “Harmony is agreement. It can appear in the form of similar or identical ideas, arguments and actions.”

Here is the rule you know instinctively, but never realized it until right now.

Unearned harmony is the antithesis of good story.

All harmony must burn through the crucible of conflict and confrontation. Only then can it be earned. In its most effective form, this reward of Harmony comes through connection to the Master Theme of the story, teaching/expressing through change, but at the very least, satiating through change.

Riggs is a loose cannon who wants to rush in headlong and fight the bad guys.
Murtaugh is more reserved and wants to fight the bad guys cautiously, by the book.

This is opposition.

Riggs learning he’s got to calm down because he’s putting people at risk.
And Murtaugh learning he’s got to take more risks or else he’s helping the bad guys get away.

This is the characters coming into harmony.

The two cops coming to this realization both around the understanding that “Partners do whatever it takes for each other.”

Would be expression of this harmony through the Master Theme (not the master theme of Lethal Weapon, I just threw that out there off the top of my head.)

The two cops coming to this realization, without the greater understanding of the Master Theme, wouldn’t be as effective, but it would still satisfy the reader with a distinct and deliberate change from conflict to harmony.

Got it?

Unearned Harmony is the reason why a perfect day story never resonates.

In the real world, sitting on your couch, winning at video games, watching some fun movies, eating great food that you prepare perfectly; this would all be a perfect day in life… but in fiction it would be horribly boring to read.

I’ll prove this technically in a moment.

Unearned Harmony also lies at the root of Mary Sue characters… but in this, I digress.

We’re talking Character Dynamics today and Character Dynamics are about establishing a relationship between characters that specifically drives the narrative. Now let’s get to three rules that will change the way you write… for the better.

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Complete Character Arcs

I’m really big on two things, Master Theme and Character Arcs.

If you run with the Character Arc fundamentals in Storycraft for Comics, your story’s in good shape… but let’s take a moment to flesh them out even further.

I’m gonna assume you already know what a Character Arc is and instead of giving the primer, jump right into it.

Act 1:

Focus on the Character’s flawed side of the arc.

While it may seem counterintuitive, the more you push the crappy version of your character at the beginning, the more potent and effective the arc will be when it completes.

Act 1 is the beginning of the arc.

Act 3:

Notice I’m listing the end of the story here, before the middle… this isn’t a cut and paste mistake.

The third act is the resolution of the story and showcases the character at the end of their arc.

Most of the time, the climax of the story in the third act, is the point at which the character performs as his new improved self and proves his arc as valid or invalid (more on this in a sec).

So in the third act, the character is showcased in his corrected or completed side of the arc. (You’ve now got the beginning and end of your character’s development.)

Act 2:

Where act 1 establishes the arc and act 3 concludes it, act 2 is where the real meat and potatoes of the transformation takes place.

The anchors of the Character Arc in act 2, are the structural point “The Big Choice” (just what it sounds like, for those who haven’t read Storycraft) and the character’s New Belief (his new and improved way of seeing the world).

Now, here’s three additional points to consider;

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Character Personality

I’m working on a new character breakdown, trying to capture his personality in ink, so I have a strong foundation when I start scripting him. What do you think of what I have so far?

Heres Johnny!

  • Johnny is not just smart, he’s SUPER smart.
  • Since his near death experience, Johnny’s held a deep appreciation for life and values every moment.
  • Johnny struggles to get out of his dad’s (a world-famous NASA astronaut) shadow.
  • He’s often overwhelmed by strong personalities.
  • And is tight lipped about his shady past.

Is Johnny’s personality coming through?

Does this sound like someone YOU could capture in dialogue?

Many folks would say sure, but if you’re a regular reader of my site, you know the kung fu we practice here is an ancient and powerful art. And rarely do we accept things as they first appear.

The fundamental building block of story is characters. If your characters aren’t engaging, if nobody empathizes with them, your story is DOA (Dead On Arrival—good movie—the original 1950 one).

Throughout this site (and my books) I put a lot of emphasis on developing and showcasing character personalities (and their arcs, but that’s a different discussion).

I realized the other day, personality is something we take for granted. A critical aspect often overlooked or muddled up when writers sit down to structure their characters.

A little clear direction in detailing your characters’ personality will go a long way in creating an effective, engaging cast and dramatically improve your writing.

So first, let’s define personality…

Personality: Characteristics and qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

Personality really comes down to expression. Any way we express ourselves, is a conduit to reveal personality.

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