Crafting distinctive characters is not easy. The danger is that we create robots who merely drive the plot forward. One remedy for this is to think about your character’s attitude to life.
Just what is attitude in character?
Attitude is the underlying manner which motivates and shapes the way a character speaks, moves, makes decisions. It contains traces of a character’s backstory, value system, and intention.
An attitude can be optimistic, pessimistic, challenging, proud, sardonic, supercilious, courageous, cowardly, and so on.
Checking for Attitude
How do you check for this distinctive quality in your characters? In a scene where two or more characters interact, ask yourself whether you could swap dialogue and action between them without your readers noticing. If you can, then the chances are that your characters are mere generic engines whose sole aim is to push the plot forward.
Who but the Terminator would say: I’ll be back. Or, Bruce Banner warn: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry, or Dorothy: Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. And, is there anyone who can’t name the movie franchise with a lead character whose favourite drink has to be prepared in a very specific way: A martini. Shaken, not stirred.
In terms of small, defining actions, can you imagine anyone chewing on a cigar, or parting his poncho to reveal his gun and holster, in quite the same way as Clint Eastwood does in his portrayal of the laconic anti-hero in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns? Or The Nostalgia of Time Travel’s Benjamin Vlahos being preoccupied with solving a mathematical equation for thirty years in order to undo a dreadful mistake?
Granting your characters different attitudes will help you create memorable individuals for your stories.
Grant your characters specific attitudes towards life to give them individuality.
Interesting post. I like the way you compare characters to robots. That’s exactly what characters are not – robots. In the Imitation game the protagonist explains the difference between the way men and machines think. Men can be identical twins who go to the same school and read the same books however they have different likes and dislikes , where a machine is designed to think a certain why. That is what makes computers , computers . A Mac in New York works the same way as a Mac in Hong Kong
In Gotham the man who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents points the gun to the only witness. However he does not kill Bruce because he is a child. That’s what makes this cold blooded killer human. He will not kill a child. He is not a machine who just points and shoots.
In short : the attitude of your character is best defined through their actions.
It all centers around the emotion flowing from attitude, Gerhard.
Always to be remembered – Thanks, Stavros.
Just taking a break from other urgent writing, but here’s a dialogue. Maybe I should incorporate it into one of my screenplays:
A: Here’s looking at you, kid. Go ahead, make my day.
B: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.
A: May the Force be with you.
B: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Yea. Let’s go make a film comprising of great one-liners!