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Defining Events

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, May 16, 2020
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What made a character be who he/she is? What is it that drives them, and why?

That's the allure of any origin story: we get to see how characters we look up to or love or love to hate came to be who they are.

Most, if not all, of human behavior is the sum of the individual's learning history, as behaviorists say. They act in the way they have learned is the most efficient for their survival (or subsistence) in the world. This is a tough realization to consider, because if accepted as a principle, the logic will lead us down the path of perhaps uncomfortable discoveries and truths about ourselves, our environment, and our pasts.

But when it comes to characters in stories, it's just fascinating to be able to watch the connections being drawn between the moments that shaped and continue to shape who they are, what they do, and why they do it. The defining moments.

What makes a moment defining?

It can be good or bad. It can be a break or a tragedy. Whatever it is, it resonates with the character in a way that it becomes a life lesson: it may teach him/her that with great power comes great responsibility. It might teach them never to trust anyone, or never allow anyone become their loved one. Or, it might teach them that there is good in everyone if looked hard enough, or that hard work can yield happiness.

The lessons they learn from their defining moments aren't necessarily correct ones.

If the defining moment's lesson is wrong, then unlearning it might be the biggest part of that character's journey and development.

If the defining moment's lesson is correct, then staying true to it or relying on it to push through the challenges the character will face might be pivotal instead.

And then, there's the defining moment that isn't just the onset of a character trait or part of the personality of the character, but also the onset of the character's hero's journey. It might be a tragedy that sets the character on the path of revenge, or to solve a mystery about it, or to prevent such tragedy from occurring to others. Or, in the case of a villain, to inflict it unto others.

It might also be a good event, something that stands out so much that the character is determined to do something for his/her benefactor, or adhere to the benefactor's admonitions or requests, or do unto others as was done to him/her.

Whatever they are, a character's defining moments are fascinating, because they are the buttons that make him/her tick. If we know what they were and how they impacted him/her, we can predict fairly accurately how he/she will react.

Sometimes, when telling the story, we choose to reveal these defining moments, sometimes not. But as creators, we ought to know them for our characters to keep them consistent and memorable!

So what are your characters' defining moments?

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comment

anonymous?

bravo1102 at 6:30AM, May 17, 2020

I'm not as much into defining moments as the slow change. Sure there can be an inspiration to change but change takes work and occurs with time. Sure there is the first day of the rest of your life but sticking to it and being the changed person defines moment to moment. You could say that some of previous comics were the defining moments of the rest of the characters life. That arc of thatmoment is the plot of the whole story. And some of my comics have been all about transformation and loss of self.

ShaRose49 at 10:30AM, May 16, 2020

I think all three of my main characters have defining moments in the origin story that I’m working on, but two in particular are very crucial. I won’t give them away in detail because of spoilers, but one character makes a complete 180 on the path they were on in life, and another learns to see everything from a different perspective. Both have more peace of mind after their character arcs, and one gains a bit more confidence and contentment. The third character’s arc is a bit more in the background and doesn’t necessarily have a correct lesson, but it does help us understand who the character is and maybe helps that character understand themself a bit more as well.

Banes at 7:17AM, May 16, 2020

Spiderman and Batman are the two origin stories that come to mind in terms of superheroes. Wonderful origins that have given these characters juice for decades. I'd probably give the edge to Spiderman as far as great superhero origins. When we think origins, so many of us think of that "great power/great responsibility" line that you quoted.

Banes at 7:12AM, May 16, 2020

Excellent stuff! My Typical Strange characters don't have defining backstories, mostly. I had one page with a flashback of Oscar getting his job at the video store, which somewhat defines him. Penelope had a whole episode-long flashback, a backstory I knew when I made up the character.

usedbooks at 5:06AM, May 16, 2020

As for my characters, I have shown a few character-building flashbacks. Kaida killed in self-defense and became an assassin. Mike killed a man accidentally during an altercation, and a sympathetic court helped him turn around and seek counseling. Yuki doesn't have defined flashbacks but meeting her highly competitive brothers and fathers in the story hints at her upbringing. My antagonists have no defined backstory except the serial killer Valentine, but I haven't decided how much of that to reveal in the story.

usedbooks at 4:59AM, May 16, 2020

I think a big defining moment for me irl was getting rejected from veterinary school. Literally everything I am as an adult is because of that. I wouldn't be making comics, living where I am, or have the amazing (low-paying, inconsistent) career I have if not for that. At the time, it was really frustrating and a huge waste of money and effort. But I'm glad for it now. (Plus, my grad school,advisor was a huge inspiration for me.)

hushicho at 1:39AM, May 16, 2020

It's also important to note that most characters (and people) are not the product of any single event. Even if an event may be major in their life and change or inform their perspective or opinion, it takes many things to change a person. It is important to keep that in mind! A major event may happen and provoke something extreme in a character, but it should always be consistent with who they are as people.


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