Character Traits, Wants, Needs.

Character Traits in Blade Runner

Character Traits in Blade Runner



IN A PREVIOUS POST, I defined the protagonist’s character arc in terms of the rise and fall of certain character traits at the expense of others.

I suggested that the best way to manage this process is to make changes at specific structural junctions such as the inciting incident, first turning point, mid-point, and second turning point.

Another way to think of the character arc is in terms of character traits vying for dominance as a result of the tension that arises between a character’s wants versus his needs.

Let me explain:

Prior to the mid-point, sometimes referred to as the moment of illumination, the protagonist pursues the goal chiefly out of want. He mistakenly believes that by attaining the outer goal, happiness will follow. This is because he has not yet discovered or acknowledged his need. The trait driving the protagonist’s search towards the goal, based on this lack of self-awareness, therefore, is a negative one—obsessive desire, overblown ambition, and the like.

After the mid-point, however, the protagonist is granted insight into the true nature of the goal and himself. What seemed like a good path at the beginning of the story no longer does so. From the perspective of technique, this means the prominent trait(s) motivating the character has been overshadowed by other more positive traits. This causes a change in the goal, and therefore, in the path to the goal. It illustrates the causal relationship that exists between the inner and outer journey in the story.

In the original Blade Runner, Deckard, a retired blade runner, a hunter of off-world synthetic humans, is persuaded to come out of retirement to hunt and kill a group of dangerous Nexus-6 Replicants, led by Roy, who have landed on earth illegally. We later learn that they’ve come in search of their creator Tyrell, of the Tyrell Corporation.

Their intent is to have him extend their lifespan which has been set at four years to prevent them from developing emotions and becoming a threat to humans. During his investigations, Deckard discovers that Tyrell’s personal assistant, Rachel, is herself a Replicant although she is is unaware of this fact. The plot thickens when Deckard falls in love with her and tries to protect her from harm.

Adjusting Character Traits Through Want vs. Need

Deckard’s inner journey is to realise that what he wants — to get rid of Replicants, is not what he needs — to rise above his prejudice and to keep Rachel alive. Ironically, during a fight to the finish, Deckard is rescued from falling to his death by Roy, the Replicant he has sought to kill. This act proves Replicants are capable of compassion, a trait that humans seem to have lost.

Deckard’s dominant trait of cold efficiency in tracking and killing Replicants becomes subservient to his traits of love and compassion released in him by Rachel, who, we are informed, has no expiry date. In changing his goal by protecting Rachel from those who would kill her, Decker acknowledges that his need is greater than his want. This change of heart (character arc) illustrates how traits affect the story goal — Decker goes from killing Replicants to protecting them.


Crafting your character arc in terms of character traits as well as what your protagonist wants vs. what he needs allows you to integrate the outer and inner journey of a story.

2 thoughts on “Character Traits, Wants, Needs.

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Great post . How often do we see how a character’s wants are always more important then his needs. This is perhaps thanks to a character having more bad trades(flaws) then good trades. We see it in Al Pacino’s Scar face and Leonardo Dicaprio’s Wolf of wall street. The character’s trades predetermine their wants – Tony Montana and Jordan Belford are both ruthless capital driven businessmen with humble origins – Yet their greed motivates them to go after their wants no matter who gets in their way. What makes their downfall so satisfying is that justice prevailed for the people who have suffered by their influence . Trades and wants can also predetermine if we root for a character. In Slumdog Millionaire Jamal Malik also has a humble origin. However his loyalty and determination to find the love of his life despite who gets in his way is what makes the final image so satisfying when Jamal is reunited with Latika.

    In short : Your character’s role of hero or anti hero ( as predetermined by his trades and flaws) is what makes a ending worth while


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