Read an interesting blog yesterday. Over at Scriptmag.com, Daniel Manus asks “What’s your characters deal breaker?” He writes that a great way to come up with compelling real characters is to come up with five things that your character would never, ever do, the lines they would never cross.
To come up with these deal breakers, you would look at your character’s backstory and where they came from, the situations they’ve gone through, what kind of person they are, what they value, what their goals in life are, etc.
Deal breakers are different than fears. A character can be scared of something, but given the right situation, they will overcome it. Heights, spiders, clowns, the dark – whatever. In fact, it’s often part of their arc to overcome those smaller fears. Deal breakers are bigger than that. They connect with the very moral fibers of your character, to their value system
I think this is a great method. Setting these absolute boundaries means that you can see, at a glance, whether your characters are being true to themselves in your story. It establishes moral parameters in which they can function and conflict when they bang their head against them. And then there’s the dilemma when they have to cross one…
He is still impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He still hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him.
The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.
In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero. These days there aren’t so many of them around.
“He is never cruel or cowardly.”
Let’s focus on that ‘cruel’ bit. That could be one of the Doctor’s deal breakers, and largely it’s been true for the last 50 years.
But what of Dinosaurs in a Spaceship, which I re-watched with my girls the other day?
Without giving too many spoilers, the Doctor purposely sends a man to his death. You can argue that the man deserved it, but should the Doctor have done it?
At the time, there was much discussion about the scene, but I thought it was interesting. The act was cruel. The Doctor had crossed a line. Was it because he was travelling without a regular companion, he had no-one to remind him that such acts may be wrong? Perhaps never being cruel isn’t one of the Doctor’s deal breakers, at all. Perhaps it is part of his nature, perhaps that’s why he surrounds himself with young, idealistic humans – to centre himself, to keep himself from crossing a line.
It’s something the series has touched on in recent years and maybe will one day return to – but it was an interesting character moment, whatever you thoughts on the episode. A shocking decision amid all the dinos, comedy robots and flirting pharaohs.
So, what is your character’s deal breaker? It’s a question I’m now asking about the protagonist of the fantasy novel I’m writing.
And the answers are surprising me.
You can read David Manus’ full blog on the Scriptmag.com website.