Another gem from the BYU online writers’ course features author and lecturer Brandon Sanderson on character. In this lecture, Sanderson outlines his theory of character in fiction. It’s a remarkably simple and effective formula, from a best-selling genre writer.
Empathy, Interest and Progress
Here he focuses on characters’ empathy, interest and progress.
1) Establish empathy
– are they likable?
– do they perform good acts?
– do other people like them?
2) Establish rooting interest
– motivation: what is it they want?
– why can’t they have it?
– what is their personal interest (stake) in the plot?
3) Show their progress through the story
– are their flaws resolved?
– what is their journey, do they complete it?
– question: can they change?
– what is going to change?
Flaws, Handicaps and limitations
Sanderson also considers character journey and ability to change according to:
Flaws – something innate within the character they need to overcome
Limitations – external constraints under the rules of the genre, world, or plot.
Handicaps – internally constraints imposed by a baseline that doesn’t change and the characters have to work within it
Goals not motivations
Sanderson’s interesting coda to the lecture looks at the difference between goals and motivations and why goals are more useful within one story.
Goals are accomplished. They are direct results of actions. After that, they need a new set of goals to pursue.
Motivation continues beyond simple goals. Motivation is why characters do what they do.