Today, I made a choice.
I made a choice not to get my blog done before midnight. Instead, I was decorating a pirate bar for Christmas because that’s just the sort of interesting life I lead. After coming home, I chose to hop on Ulta.com because Cyber Monday waits for no one. (Click here for my Ebates referral code!)
I chose to put off blogging because the idea that I had was taking too long and I had other stuff that just had to take priority at that particular time. Given the circumstances and incentives in front of me, my daily blog could wait until 4:00 in the morning.
I re-emphasize this point of choices over and over again because ultimately, we (and the characters we write) are defined by the choices we make. The choices we will make are always going to change based on the options in front of us.
You can have an awesome abstract idea for a character but your audience won’t really know who they are until they see that character make choices that reflect that aspect of their character. They also need to understand the context under which that choice was made.
Bear in mind that most of us constantly say our priorities are one thing, but don’t make the choices to back that up. Think of how many things you’ve put on your Netflix list but never watched because you’d rather watch your comfort zone shows over and over again. That’s why it’s not enough just to have your character say they care about certain things or have certain ambitions. A character that has ambitions but is consistently choosing other things over their stated ambitions is different from a character that is actually prioritizing that thing with actions.
Don’t just ask yourself “who is this character?” ask yourself “What choices must this character make in order for the audience to get it?”