what characters want

My wife and I finally got around to some of the comment features on Babylon 5 DVDs, a few interesting discussions of the making and other background. J. Michael Straczynski, the force behind Babylon 5, had a few criteria on character issues that are simple and foundational:

1. What does the character want?
2. How much do they want it?
3. How far will they go to get it?

The answers to these questions, the author intimates, leads to story, stories that may or may not write themselves. B5 has a great character-driven pull that drew from the talent that helped the original Star Trek find its character metal. Anyway, practicing the above 3 criteria calls for lots of thinking about Jim or Deborah.

D wants into Harvard. J wants to win at Chess. Already we have a means of getting into D and J’s worlds, simply by asking question #1. But the question could also come from this: D doesn’t want UCONN. J can’t take loosing. The three questions above shouldn’t be taken as the “prime” questions. But they do give direction and focus and they’re too uncomplicated to forget.

Another issue has to do with the nature of resolution: does the character get what they want?

I think this is excellent simplicity, excellent advice.

4 thoughts on “what characters want

  1. gibb

    Sure is. Covers conflict, building arc, and resolution as well–depending upon what the character does and how he is changed. Very succinct description of the process of both character and story development. Thanks!

  2. Maureen

    Wow, I thought I was the only one who likes to view the “comments” part of a DVD. Sometimes they can be blather or just “filler” to get you to buy the DVD. Though, sometimes it can be quite informative to get insight into the filming process and just how the director and actors and of course, those put-upon writers go through the process of character development.

    Most Graciously,


  3. Maureen

    Oh yeah, I forgot to comment on Steve’s questions in regard to character:

    1. What does the character want?

    2. How much does the character want it?

    3. How are they [or will they] going to get it?

    ..This reminds me of the workshopping we did at SJC in regard to Shakespeare’s plays..When the Shenandoah Shakespeare troupe visited our humble college…They asked similar questions in regard to how to craft an intepretation of a particular character…

    Think also of the obstacle that the character must face..for any good drama or fiction has the character overcoming an obstacle to get what he or she wants..or perhaps in the end..the character falls far short of his/her goal..If there is no obstacle…then it is too easy..it is not real…

    Most Graciously,


  4. ersinghaus


    You are absoluetly correct with the Shakespeare angle. In Shakespeare, Hamlet, for example, and others less worthy of note characters are always after something, and therefore the proactive plots are strong with arc. However, in my opinion, the histories are less interesting because the plots are often contrived.

    Consider the Hal/Falstaff robbery scene of 1 Henry IV. It’s a great twist, and revealing of Hal as a “player” of men, but not of Falstaff. In the context of the play, I’ve never been able to figure how this goes to greater story of Henry, though.

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