Think of a character as a tension point between a perceived virtue and a latent flaw. Need an example? Sure!
Take for example the virtue of being kind. Now, let’s say that a character is too kind, maybe in all of those selfless acts of virtue they’re really hiding a latent aversion for conflict.
So, for a plot to work with these character traits, we need to construct the plot beats in such a way that each time the character faces an obstacle, the tension between being kind and actually being conflict averse is triggered.
Maybe we place the character in such a situation that their kindness puts them directly in the face of conflict. Take this for example, a kind person who offers himself to help others and in doing so gets sucked into a situation where he has to face a huge conflict he’s trying to avoid.
Voilà! You have a story there!
In a well-constructed story, the plot will always initiate a latent change found in the tension between a virtue and a character’s flaw. You might ask, why does this happen? Well, reality is that people are often moved by their virtues as they see them as the proper way of behaving. And by proper way of behaving, I refer mostly to the best possible ways of achieving their goals and desires.
In a sense, people and characters create their own plotlines and derive personal meaning from them.
Theme = Why
Plot = How Change is produced.
Character = Who
All of the plot beats and their construction has to be a reflection of the theme you’re using, just because the actions triggered and executed in it are about testing the character into approaching the thematic premise, expressed as a truth, right?
Now, ask yourself…
Why must your character endure the plot to learn this particular theme?
Does the plot facilitate the character’s arc that proves the theme?
By those two questions, what we’re really talking is about an external conflict becoming a metaphor for an inner conflict. So, the internal conflict beats (comprising the character’s arc) must somehow provide the protagonist with a changed mindset which will make them choose in a different way every time (evolving). These different ways of choosing will then affect or trigger the next external event (plot).
Obstacle Inner conflict Choice
In the schematic above, we can see how an initial obstacle sends the character into an inner conflict that will reflect in a new choice, that will eventually lead to a new obstacle and so on…
Okay! There’s so much more to talk about in the relations between theme, plot and characters. Next time we’ll dive into the creation and analysis of the antagonist, in relation with the theme and all of the elements we’ve been discussing so far.