Yeah, I’m capitalizing a little over the political kerfluffle, because hey, I like a policy fight as much as the next guy, but that one’s right on the level of an internet message board fap-fight over spelling and LOLcats. But the point behind it has a place in fiction. Who built your characters?
Everyone has life-shaping events that have changed the course of their lives or the way they think. For most of us, it’s hard to point to a single event or handful of experiences that definitely and definitively shaped the kind of person we turned out to be, but that can’t be the case for our characters. As authors, we have to know not only where they came from, but what shaped them.
Some people call this their internal motivation, others refer to this as a character’s “wound“–something that affected them deeply enough to leave a scar. I kind of like “wound” better because it implies built-in conflict, and we need that for good stories.
Wound, however, can be limiting. It implies a single point of conflict that shapes a character’s entire life, and very few people can say that only a single event made them who they are, the same way very few people can use a single adjective to describe themselves.
Instead, we are shaped by a network of influences. The teachers who helped or hurt us, the kind remarks or the throwaway compliments or the careless cuts and ignorant cuts flung at us from all directions. Sometimes the random occurrences of local or regional events. Which influences reinforce a character’s opinion of himself? Which run counter to her idea of who she is? What are the driving and shaping strings of influence that connect your characters to their actions?