1. Ritrezer
    Offline

    Ritrezer Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Mordor

    Character's Spine

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ritrezer, Apr 22, 2014.

    Recently I saw a TED talk with Pixar's Andrew Stanton(Pioneer behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E). He was talking about something called- Character's Spine. He said that all well drawn characters had a "Spine", an inner motor, an unconscious goal- something that drove them to do what they do, and what choices they make etc. “They have a dominant unconscious goal that they’re striving for, an itch they can never scratch.” He quoted examples of Pixar films-

    Wall-E - To Find the Beauty
    Woody - To Do what's best for his Child
    Merlin - To Prevent Harm to his Child.

    All Protagonists have it.
    Now that got me thinking....How important do you think this is? Do your characters have it? What do you think of this?


    To those who want to know more about this, you may watch the TED Talk over here-

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxDwieKpawg
     
  2. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,878
    Likes Received:
    10,057
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    My characters often have an inner trait that is a reduction of people I have met across my life. Good, bad, or indifferent, after a few decades you can't help but notice that people do fit certain archetypes. But this answers less to what you and Stanton are mentioning, which is a goal-oriented concept, and more of a be-oriented way of me seeing it. There is The Lesson Teacher, the Mother, the Victim, the Invisible, the Loudly Invisible, etc.

    I do think what he is talking about, tho, the spine of the character, is an important part of the cohesiveness of the telling of that person, that character's unfolding. Otherwise, randomness.
     
  3. Madman
    Offline

    Madman Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2012
    Messages:
    148
    Likes Received:
    72
    Yes all my characters have this. I think it's very important and act as the foundation of your character. They must have some sort of desire or drive. Something to motivate their actions. This is based on who they are and their past.

    Let's do an experiment, if I give you the "spine's" of some of my characters. Can you guess which one's is more prone to evil?
    Character A - Want to find a reason for life
    Character B - Want to be with his/her family, protect them.
    Character C - Want to keep order and peace
     
    xanadu likes this.
  4. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    Stanton talks about an unconscious goal... I don't get it. What am I missing?
     
  5. Ritrezer
    Offline

    Ritrezer Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Mordor
    I think Character C would be the most prone to it. Am I right or am I wrong?

    Haha, watch the video it's actually quite good.
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    I have and I'm still confused... how does one strive for something one is unaware of? By happy accident? Honestly, I'm asking. :D
     
  7. Ritrezer
    Offline

    Ritrezer Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Mordor
    I think he means that the characters have that one sole purpose, the motive that always makes them do things. That one sole basic purpose, for which they strive. Batman's would be to protect his city. Katniss's would be to protect those she cares for.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix and Wreybies like this.
  8. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,878
    Likes Received:
    10,057
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Yeah. Whether they are thinking about it in a completely structured "Must save city" way or not. Kinda' like being a mom. You're not always thinking "must protect daughter", but if some dynamic were to appear that looked to harm your daughter, your action would automatically default to "save daughter" mode regardless of other dynamics that might be in play. A big part of the tension that arrises when a character is faced with opposing choices, especially when one choice is the "right" choice and the other is the "must do" choice would seem rooted in this dynamic of which we speak.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,968
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Examples:

    The person who makes every decision based on getting the parental love and approval that they never got. Their job choices are to please their parents, they marry the spouse their parents approve of, they have kids in order to produce grandchildren for their parents, and so on.

    The person who grew up in an environment of chaos and grows up with a determination to achieve stability, normality, and a complete lack of risk.

    The person with a dysfunctional parent who grows up with an overriding need to make sure that that parent is safe and cared for.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix likes this.
  10. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    @ChickenFreak

    Ta for the elaboration... I still don't see these examples as unconscious goals though. Maybe I'm just being pedantic. ;)
     
  11. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,878
    Likes Received:
    10,057
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I know the feeling of which you speak. ;) :p
     
  12. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    @Wreybies :p I do tend to take things rather too literally. Concepts are a tad lost on me. ;)
     
  13. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    I don't want to put words in Stanton's mouth, but here's how I see it.

    What really makes a story? People make a story, but a whole bunch of people sitting around isn't a story. Conflict--but people aren't going to fight on their own. Change--people change, that's a story, isn't it? But what prompts that change? People don't change without a reason. There's a missing ingredient.

    Want.

    People want things. They think they want tangible things, but they really want intangible things. Case in point--a young college girl wants to land a job coming out of school to kickstart her career. OK. But what does she really want? What's actually driving her? Maybe she was bullied all throughout high school and wants to become a powerful businesswoman to make up for it. OK. But deeper. Maybe she wants affirmation of self-worth. Ah! There it is. That's the real want of the character. And that's what's at stake. That's what pushes her on, that's what comes under scrutiny by her peers, that's what gets blocked by her obstacles. That's what creates story.

    Characters need goals to push them forward. They need deep, intangible wants that confuse them and mislead them in the most indirect ways possible, so that their actions are inconsistent and imperfectly human. They think they want something at the top level, not realizing they have this deeper drive beneath the surface, and that pushes them through their arcs. It's when they get faced with opposition that opposes their true, intangible goals that they're forced to grow and change.

    She might land that job but find that it doesn't satisfy her--how could that be possible? She achieved her goal, didn't she? No, she didn't. She thinks she did, and she's wrong. Now she has internal conflict. Now she has to force change. Now she has to follow her arc and evolve and grow--learn what she really wants. And she'll probably fail again. But eventually she'll catch on, somehow, and when she does she'll look back and see the trail of her own blood she left behind.

    Characters are dynamic, but they don't become different people. They just learn what it is they truly want. They learn to understand themselves at the basest level. That's what makes the conflict so important--their goals need to get challenged at that bottom level, because that's the level closest to who a person really is. The character shouldn't know that true goal from the outset--that's what the story and character arcs are for. But it should always be there, defiantly foiling every attempt the character makes to reach those shallow, superficial goals until the character digs deep and finally uncovers it.
     
    Madman and Ritrezer like this.
  14. Smoke Z
    Offline

    Smoke Z Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2014
    Messages:
    250
    Likes Received:
    36
    The way a character acts is the symptoms and the spine is the disease.
     
    Madman likes this.
  15. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,968
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I think that it can be at least partly unconscious, though sometimes the unconscious part might be the failure to realize that not everyone has the same priorities.

    For example, someone who makes all their decisions to please their parents may not realize that not everyone does that. Or they may have internalized their parents' opinions about things to the extent that they never stopped to think about whether they agree with their parents. A person who, let's say, has substantial artistic talent but never considers an art-related career, may be unconsciously following their parents' feeling about a "proper" job, without ever stopping to think about whether they actually agree.

    And the person who grew up in chaos may not realize that they have given stability a much, much higher priority than other people might. Another person, while making a decision about a job, might balance salary and job security and hours and location and the extent to which they like the work. The person whose overriding drive is to maximize predictability might go with job security, period, without even seriously looking at the other factors. They're not unaware of the fact that they're looking at job security, but they may be unaware of the fact that they're ignoring the other factors.

    A man who nags his wife until she agrees to have a child earlier than she wanted, and is then incredulous and furious when his wife doesn't let his mother babysit every weekend, may be behaving in accordance with an unconscious idea that it's his job to "give" his mother grandchildren, as part of an overall focus on making his mother happy in all his decisions.

    And so on. I suspect that I write, and I explain and explain and explain things (for example, providing three examples above), because I grew up with a mother who--probably in response to some unconscious drive of her own, I suspect a drive to avoid responsibility and always be taken care of like a child--was absolutely determined to never understand anything that was explained to her.

    My objection to the original idea is the idea that a person has just one goal. Sometimes one goal may take priority over all of the others, but I tend to see that as a dysfunction.
     
  16. Acanthophis
    Offline

    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2011
    Messages:
    598
    Likes Received:
    330
    Location:
    Canada
    A good example of unconscious motive is something most of us have experienced - bullies. The majority of bullies are people who are insecure in some way or another, so they feel the need to cause harm to others to elevate themselves above everyone else, creating a sense of superiority. It's the mind's way of correcting mistakes, but the results are only ever temporary, which is why bullies don't actually stop until they receive help or simply grow up and experience other things in life which override their negative behaviour. So in the case of the bully, their unconscious goal is to fix the insecurity, but like I said: the results are only ever temporary.

    The unconscious mind does not forget, so it tries to fix all of the biggest problems a person may have. The unconscious mind is why you can be in your fifties and still be suffering from say... child abuse. Your brain does not forget what happened to you as a child, and it is still trying to solve the issue.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix likes this.
  17. Bjørnar Munkerud
    Offline

    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    393
    Likes Received:
    140
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    This thread got me thinking, and I decided to make a list of some of my MCs to make clear what their "spines" are. Sorry if I slightly misinterpreted exactly what they are, as it's very possible I just haven't been able to properly wrap my mind around this concept, and feel free to reexplain it if that's the case. Please also understand that it was hard making these both brief and readily understandable when presented out of context like this.

    Dan: to pursue justice and do the right thing, no matter if it's by doing it himself or by proxy and no matter if he wants it or not, but understanding that happiness matters, including his own, and that happiness can lead to action
    Eoghan: to get home
    Sue: to try her best to get to know Simon in the hope that he'll like her and they'll get together
    Invi: to understand the nature of her shortcomings and dealing with the dangers those shortcomings imply
    Anaconda: to make sure his way of life isn't threatened
    Sarah: to do everything physically possible / in her powers to convince herself she's better than everyone who isn't like her
    Brandon: trying not to be a dick because you don't get many friends; or, more importantly, girls; that way
    Martin: to safeguard the status quo at all costs in fear of chaos
    Mark: to impose a better world order by destroying the fundaments of the current one
    Matt: recognising the recently revealed secrets of the world for what they are
    Jackett: feeling cool
    the MC of "Project Love": to find out why his wife disappeared
    the MC of "Project Dark": to defeat evil
    the MC of "Project Fantasy": to respect and honour every symbol of good he can find in his world, and cast out every permutation and incantation of evil in favour of good equivalents in the process
    the MCs of "Project Come": to make sure they and those they love, care about, know and/or have any power to help make it through the war and get reunited
    the MCs of "Project Gale": having fun, not get on eachother's nerves and completing the experiment according to plan
    the MCs of "Project Quadrant": to protect their own view of what is true and false, right and wrong, good and evil
    the River Giant: to do what he has been ordered to
    the president: to do everything necessary to restore balance to his world
    fictionalised me: to live so that his crush will be as likely as possible to be supportive of his personality, behaviour and actions; in the hope that it'll lead to him being a good person, her being proud of him or, ultimately, them getting to meet or even get together
     
  18. Catrin Lewis
    Offline

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2014
    Messages:
    1,675
    Likes Received:
    1,070
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    So if the goal becomes conscious has the character lost his spine and gained a very large navel?

    Not being facetious. I've put my MC in my WIR into a situation where she's jeopardized what she thinks she wants by trying to protect it, and now she's questioning how she got to the place where she wants it at all (seeing that it falls short of her youthful goals). She's a rather cerebral person and would definitely wrestle with the matter, but I wonder if I'm spelling out too much both to the MC and to the reader. I know I'm having a hell of a time writing the chapters in question.

    Is it better to let the reader sense what makes the character tick rather than spelling it out?
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2014
  19. Madman
    Offline

    Madman Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2012
    Messages:
    148
    Likes Received:
    72
    You're right.
    Character A is most prone to good.
    B is actually the spine of two different characters, one is good, the other does some very nasty things to protect his/her family.
    C wants to do good, but his actions result in evil deeds.
     
  20. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    I see that 'spine' as something about the character, an event in the past or whatever shapes that inner drive, that makes sense of everything they do, all their decisions, behaviours, feelings, reactions. It's also a wonderful tool to use to check whether your character is making sense on paper. This 'spine' will determine what is character-consistent and what isn't and help with understanding them. It's perhaps exactly the same with people.
     
  21. Bryan Romer
    Offline

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2014
    Messages:
    891
    Likes Received:
    381
    I think it is dangerously simplistic to think a "spine" or core concept informs everything a person does. All of us are a network of drives and desires, constantly warring, constantly striving for dominance, underlaid by the primal desires, food, safety, sex. Using the "spine" idea to represent the prime objective of a robot like Wal-E is one thing, but I think it is the counter-acting needs and motivations that make a character interesting, like the myriad strands of a web supporting the spider at the centre. Strengthening the pull of one strand will distort the web in one direction, and simultaneously pulling upon another will distort the web even further instead of simply clicking from one default to another.

    For example, a bully not only needs a base insecurity (if that exists at all), but also needs a degree of aggression and desire for dominance that is greater than his social peers or he or she will not be driven to act. Not all bullies are cowards, despite what "they" like to tell us. I have met many bullies who were physically fearless and seemed driven more by rage and short term ambition than insecurity. Many bullies are also socially adept in the way that most leaders are, to some degree or another, and are able to recruit followers. This requires self-confidence and the ability to convince others as to the rightness of his cause. So the bully is a patchwork or network of compulsions that come together to create the "bully" personality.
     
  22. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    @Bryan Romer : What you are talking about I refer to as primary and secondary motivations. Not every person has the one primary subconscious 'truth' that motivates them, but heroes often do. Some would argue everyone does, but it only gets revealed in situations of extreme stress, and not everyone goes through such situations, so they may never get to find out what lies within them.

    This doesn't need to be revealed to the reader, or to the character, but I think in novels it adds an extra layer of entertainment when the reader is allowed to glimpse this deeply into a character, imo, all good novels let you do this. But what you'll readily get to see is the struggle with secondary motivations, because the secondary motivations tend to be conscious so internal monologue deals with them regularly. But primary motivations, things that shape our temperament as such, usually remain hidden and manifest in the very way the person, or a character, resolves conflicts between various secondary motivations and desires, internal and external; it's revealed in his inclinations, the likelihood of him turning right vs left. Whenever the choice he makes is opposed to the primary motivation, it results in unease and neurosis, because psyche craves the consistency. It's a deep psychological concept, in my understanding at least, I should have explained better what I meant :)
     
    Catrin Lewis likes this.
  23. Ritrezer
    Offline

    Ritrezer Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Mordor

    Macbeth is a complicated character, but everything that he did was because of one small spine. Power. Macbeth was ambitious and so for power he did everything he could.

    All characters have that One TRUE core, the dominant flame that drives them.The bully may require many things but in the end it always comes down to the basic small things, he did it all for- Solace/Acceptance/Mental Happiness or Satisfaction.
    It all can be put down to what small thing. I don't believe it's simplistic, rather the polar opposite- being able to see deep enough through the characters to recognize what they are at the center and why they act in ways they do. We can always classify it into/under a certain things. Classification, science be damned if that was simple.

    You are right there are multiple webs, but even beyond those lies the one true web which is the spine. Take Bilbo Baggins he was always happy smoking his pipe in bag end. But then after he went on an adventure he was entirely different person. He never knew he had it in him, but then it was always there. That is what becomes his spine- a Love and Thirst for adventure. After he discovers it, he falls in love with Adventure, Frodo is enthusiastic about Adventure as well but discovers he doesn't share the same love of it, like Bilbo.
     

Share This Page