Observations on Character and Storytelling Brought to Life

A guest post by Josh Bolla

When a writer comes to an actor asking for him to speak on his perspective on storytelling it can be a little jarring.  Writers so rarely ask actors such things, though it does Nathan credit to do so. After all it is the actor’s job to bring the written characters to life. After a time we begin to notice some rules that make characters more interesting or not:

  1. Give me a reason to care:  With every character, a writer should ask themselves the essential question, “Why?” I promise you, it really is that simple.  I need to know with every character why I, or anyone else, should care.  It could be because the character itself is a larger message. It could be because the character suffers an inordinate amount of conflict. No matter what give a character a reason to change.
  2. Characters move from stasis to conflict to stasis: All stories and all characters begin and end in stasis or, as could be said, the daily routine of their life. Conflict is what makes your story interesting, an impulse that forces the character out of their stasis.  A conflict must alter a character irrevocably, forcing a true departure from the status quo.  A character should not end up in the same stasis as they began in. What makes the conflict interesting is that it forces a new stasis.
  3. Characters must have strong emotions: I’m going to give you a plea from every actor. Please, please strengthen your emotions.  Emotions NEED to be strong. They need to impassion your audience.  Save muting your emotions for your actual life.
    If the character raises their voice, make them shout.
    If they are sad, make them despairing.
    If they are angry, make them furious.
    We experience muted emotions all day; the point of stories are to bring situations where we can no long mute ourselves.
  4. Characters must resonate: A character we remember must sound out something deep in our soul.  They must show and represent things we have seen or experiences we have felt. They must represent something more.  In the arc of the hero’s journey, the hero represents hope.  The hero embodies the average person overcoming the hardships in their life and achieving happiness. Characters have to mean something deeper than the surface of their interactions.
  5. Give them range: A single, heavy emotion ends up being a hammer delivering feeling.  Do not let a character be defined by a single emotion, lest people get bored by a constantly sardonic character, or develop a headache from a constantly angry one.  Give a character a range of emotions; don’t let them be dominated by one.

Over my time I’ve seen many characters shuffle through the theater, some interesting some not so interesting.  In theater as with any form of writing strong characters are the back bone and workhorse of a story.  Without them your piece is missing the foundation from which everything else is built.

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When not wooing maidens or wrestling T-Rexes, Josh pursues his dreams of being a screen actor through the masters of Fine Arts in Performance Studies at the Savannah College of Arts and Design.  Josh can neither confirm nor deny the existence of video footage of him as a Sith Lord with a 1920’s flair.  As a completely unrelated side note, zapping your friends with force lightening is awesome.

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