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CHARACTERS: Using Stress to Reveal Character
11-09-08

Let's focus on using stressful situations to reveal character and better define a character arc. Character Pro 5 helps with this by providing a unique character spine based on your choices and established character types, once you know your character's inner workings, it's easy to bring out these qualities when they're in a tough spot.

Characters change or act differently when under fire. A tough cop can suddenly break down and cry or a meek librarian can leap into battle. What happens to your character in tough situations?

Tip #1:


Know your character's arc. Where is he or she going? Is she going to overcome some weakness or slip further down into mental instability? (In Character Pro, the arc is related to the level of healthiness in a character: Heroes get more healthy, while villains get more unhealthy.) When the first signs of trouble arrive in the story, we may see a glimpse of which direction the character is going in his or her arc. For example, a weak-willed sloth may get motivated to help someone, pulling a child from a burning car. The other option is to go the complete opposite way in the arc so we see a glimpse of them in a state of complete unhealthiness. For example, a weak-willed sloth may watch frozen while the car burns. Either option relates to where the arc is going and both add drama and conflict to the story.

Tip #2:


As a story progresses, the tension level generally increases. This ascending tension level creates changes in the character. Lower levels may cause a character to slip further down the scale into unhealthiness. For instance, a shy guy who can't overcome his shyness may find himself in front of the whole school and suddenly passes out or can't speak. Higher levels will usually drive a character to face these fears to be able to get out of the stressful situation, thereby curing the problem. For example, someone who has been in denial about something may be forced to face the truth. Or, if the same shy guy from above suddenly learned terrorists were about to attack the school, he may make a stand and grow very healthy, very quickly--which leads to a more pronounced, definitive arc. He was heading that way anyway, the stressful situation helped him move more quickly down the road.

Tip #3:


Dialogue is affected by stress. In most "modern" stories, talking a lot or rambling is seen as unhealthy, while not talking is seen as healthy (not always true in real life). At the lower levels of stress in the story, we might see a character's mind rambling, confused, and experiencing disorganized thoughts. Under serious stress, this same character may experience a moment of clarity no one expected, including herself. Whether you put such a moment of high stress early and deal with the fallout during the rest of the story, or later in the story where it would come in handy for the hero (or villain) is up to you.

As you can see, stress can be a fantastic tool for revealing character. Under extreme pressure the creative juices start to flow for the character and great change is possible--not only in the advancement of the story, but in the advancement of the character. This tool, however, in the wrong hands can make things more confusing and difficult. Know your character arc, use stress to reveal character, and you'll stay focused. Character Pro can be very helpful in discovering the arc and bringing out its qualities.  

 

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