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Character Creation Part 3: Objective

This post focuses on what the player does to create their character’s inner life based on objective, see here for the intro, and posts on physicality, traits and other players.


It’s probably only because my acting training was at HB Studio, but I still think Uta Hagen’s final 3 steps (of 6) are the easiest to use for improvising characters in longer narratives: What do I want? What is in my way? What do I do to get what I want?


Let’s go back to the example of germaphobic.

What do I want: There’s a few objectives that could be behind germaphobic: I want to stay healthy, I want to stay clean, I want to isolate myself. You could also just go with “I want to avoid germs” but that feels too superficial to me. Instincts will vary.

What is in my way: Germs, dirty objects, the air, other people. Basically everything.

What do I do to get what I want: Actions that address those obstacles like using disinfectant, hand washing, offering a mask, etc.


Motivation and objective are sometimes used interchangeably but it’s worth teasing out one difference: objective focuses on an end state that can be (in theory) reached, while motivation focuses on the internal state motivating an action. Objective is often easier to play with in improvised narrative because it already suggests plot points, but motivation can be easier to tap into a character’s mind because of the emotions involved.


On the rabbit hole of looking for motivation: I’m not that into over-psychoanalyzing characters, I don’t need to know about my character’s childhood trauma to motivate their actions in a scene. It’s enough for me to know that they’re pulling an all-nighter because they have a fear of failure, I don’t need to know or show why they have that fear of failure. For me, one why is enough: I don’t need to know why they have that why. But everyone’s rabbit hole has a different depth.

 

My favorite simple formula for all this objective work is what + why = who. Once the audience sees what your character does and has some understanding of why they’re doing it (either a goal or an inner state), then they’ll know who that character is.


Since we’re back at inner life again, please remember that the audience cannot see your inner state, so you might want to share it with them at some point. Don’t want to do it in dialogue? Do it in a monologue! Write it in a journal! Dance it! Scream it at your gods!


Or you can keep it for yourself, there’s also something to be said for letting an audience come to their own conclusions.

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