Rule #13

Happy Wednesday!

Today we get to take another quick look at  Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules. We are making our way through them, and we’ve bypassed the half-way mark. If you’ve missed one, you can check out the list at the end of this post.

Without further ado, here’s the 13th rule:

Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Boy, did I learn this lesson the hard way. Truth be told, I am still learning this lesson.

I like writing passive characters. It makes it so much easier to make then adhere to the plot! When they have opinions and (gasp) a mind of their own, they tend to mess up my plans. But that’s exactly what will attract readers – characters that think for themselves.

A comment my writing coach repeated (over and over) was: Why?

She’d read my chapters and pepper the manuscript with questions that essentially boiled down to ‘why’. Why could my character accept the job? Why did his mother tell him to leave the city? Why would he give it all up for a woman who scorned him?

The answers to those questions were not in the story because I had failed to flesh out my characters. Instead, I put them through a play, telling them to go here and do this, without have a good sense in my mind why they had to go there and do that. What sort of person would accept a job that would threaten his family? What sort of mother would banish her son? And is love really the reason behind his blind devotion or something else?

Once you have a good idea of exactly who your characters are, they’ll likely surprise you, and, through their actions, tell you why they do what they do.


18 thoughts on “Rule #13

  1. Urgh. I have a character who JUST WON’T TALK TO ME. I don’t know what to do with her. I’d like to take her out to the bars and get her a little bit hammered and try to get her to open up. She may have to be replaced if she continues on with this idiotic behavior.

    1. This may sound odd – but have you thought about changing the gender? Or the age of the character? I had that issue with my novel. My Prince was bland and flat and felt little more than a plot device. So I gave him a sex change and I felt I could do more, go in other directions with “her” than I could with “him”. Just a thought but would making your character male or much older or much younger work?

      1. Welcome! As I said, it worked for me… or it could be that I’m a literary sadist in that I like to throw myself curve balls from time to time 😀

  2. That’s a great question and one I’ve been asking myself through my novel. “Why would he do that?” is the core question to every character and their actions – it has to be when conflict is at the core of a plot.

    Another nice summary!

  3. Great post; love this series.

    I’ve struggled with more passive characters, or at least more wishy-washy characters. For me, (I think), it had more to do with such characters seemed more realistic or complex if they were uncertain. And that does help but a little uncertainty goes a long way. Especially at the start, I think it is deadly to have them come across this way because they seem weak -> uninteresting, to most readers anyway.

    Can’t say I’m all that different as a reader myself. Hamlet, for instance, never appealed nor did any of the existentialist protagonists. Of course, they weren’t really supposed to appeal but any of the ones I recall, I hate and would hate re-reading those stories (nor would I recommend them).

    1. Maybe we don’t like wishy-washy characters because it reminds us to much of ourselves? Maybe it is like that old adage: nothing in fiction is random. So: nothing in fiction can be wishy-washy.

      Whereas in the real world, randomness (and wishy-washyness) abounds – sometimes deciding the fate of whole nations.

      I was just reminded of this while watching something on Queen Elizabeth I (the last of those horrible Tudors). If her sister (Mary) hadn’t died of the flu, Elizabeth would more than likely be dead instead. And who would have predicted that? Random acts of disease rarely make it into the pages of fiction (though maybe it should).

      1. That’s a good point: “reality” is all fine and good but if it is too much like our own lives, it probably won’t be very interesting for the reader 🙂

  4. I’ve often had a sort of different problem, in that my characters often wander around doing whatever they want, refusing to pull together toward some sort of cohesive plot. I’m not sure it is so much that the characters are so vibrant that they can’t be controlled, as it is that my idea of plotting tends to be “stick a few characters in a scene and see what happens”, but in any case my challenge is getting the characters to act with a bit more team spirit for the good of the novel.

    1. Ha! Actually, that’s funny you should mention that…

      I kind of thought that about the last story I read of yours through Critters (so long ago). Whatever happened to that? I haven’t been back to Critters for awhile, and I can’t remember the titled of that story, but I remember really liking it exactly because each of the characters seemed to have a mind of their own! It really was a good story. The one with the older charlatan that was bumming off the two young kids with the talent, and they had to save that guy before another magic-dude came. Did you submit that somewhere?

      1. It’s been rejected by a few places so far. That’s a good example, actually. In the draft you read, as I recall, it was mainly a bunch of characters arguing with one another against a sci-fi-ish backdrop, so I ended up tweaking it to try to make it about the main character’s history and particular skills.

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