Years ago, I took acting classes in college. One of the tools that the instructor gave us came from an acting book by Robert Cohen called Acting One. In his book, Cohen outlined his techniques with the acronym GOTE:
Cohen recommended that actors “Get their GOTE” to understand how to portray their characters. As a writer, you can also benefit from this technique, but I've given it a slight twist – not to mention simplifying the mnemonic device. Remember this: every character should have the power of the VOTE.
The character's Victory answers the question, “What does he want in this story?” Strong characters either have something that they want to accomplish, protect or regain, which compels them into action.
Character 1: He wants to win the championship.
Character 2: She wants to leave her abusive husband and take the children.
Character 3: He wants to capture the murderer.
This answer always comes in the form of action verb, NEVER a “being” verb. Powerful characters don't whine about their jobs, gaze at their navels or pontificate about the meaning of life.
The character's Obstacles answer the question, “What's stopping him from achieving his Victory?” You must place obstacles in that character's path that force him to go over, under, around, or through them.
Character 1: The current champion is undefeated.
Character 2: Her husband keeps her from the children.
Character 3: He can't get to the evidence he needs.
These Obstacles can be as small as a cancer cell or as large as the entire universe. They can be an innate personality flaw or a fifty-story brick wall, but they have to represent a series of challenges the character must overcome to reach his victory.
The character's Tactics answer the question, “What's he going to do to got past the Obstacles and achieve his Victory?” Tactics can not only include the actions the character takes to reach the Victory, but also those actions the character refuses to take.
Character 1: He trains as hard as possible, but refuses to take steroids.
Character 2: She sues for custody, but refuses to reveal a family secret.
Character 3: He uses every method within the system, but he won't break the rules.
In the best stories, the character must choose between his Victory and his original of Tactics. The first choice of Tactics never works (or else the story would be over in thirty seconds), so the character must use Tactics which either are beyond his current abilities or that violate his beliefs. These dilemmas create conflict and ignite the story.
The character's Energy answer the question, “What drives him to want to achieve his Victory?” While a character's Victory is always tangible, the Energy is usually intangible. The Energy forms the character's emotional driving force throughout the story.
Character 1: He wants to prove himself to his father.
Character 2: She loves her children and wants to rescue them from an abusive environment.
Character 3: He wants to show that the “justice system” can truly deliver justice.
Powerful emotions create meaningful motivations and spur characters into memorable actions. Each character's Energy forms the fuel for their part of the story.
Power of the VOTE
When you develop a VOTE for each character, you give them power. Just as the ballot box gives voters the power to choose their leaders, the VOTE gives characters the power to take control of their side of the story.
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