Here’s another analogy. Human beings bring only a handful of facial features to the blueprint of how we look—two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, a mouth, a pair of cheekbones, and two ears, all pasted onto a somewhat ovular-to-round face. That particular blueprint doesn’t often vary much, either. Interestingly enough, this is about the same number of essential storytelling parts and milestones that each and every story needs to showcase in order to be successful. Now, consider this: With only these eleven variables to work with, ask yourself how often you see two people who look exactly alike. In a crowd of ten thousand faces, you would be able to differentiate each and every one of them, other than a set of twins or two in attendance. Where we humans are concerned, the miracle of originality resides in the Creator, who applies an engineering-driven process—eleven variables— to an artistic outcome. Where art is concerned, there is something to be learned from that.
THE SEVEN KEY CHARACTERIZATION VARIABLES Think of these as realms, as areas of potential character illumination. Here they are, in no particular order: Surface affectations and personality—What the world sees and perceives about a character, including quirks, ticks, habits, and visual presentation. Backstory—All that happened in the character’s life before the story begins that conspires to make him who he is now. Character arc—How the character learns lessons and grows (changes) over the course of the story, how she evolves and conquers her most confounding issues. Inner demons and conflicts—The nature of the issues that hold a character back and define his outlook, beliefs, decisions, and actions. Fear of meeting new people, for example, is a demon that definitely compromises one’s life experience. Worldview—An adopted belief system and moral compass; the manifested outcome of backstory and inner demons. Goals and motivations—What drives a character’s decisions and actions, and the belief that the benefits of those decisions and actions outweigh any costs or compromises. Decisions, actions, and behaviors—The ultimate decisions and actions that are the sum of all of the above. Everything about your characters depends on this final variable, and the degree to which the character’s decisions, actions, and behaviors have meaning and impact depends on how well you’ve manipulated the first six variables before, during, and after the moment of decision or action.