On Character Motivation

Last Saturday, I sacrificed sleep time in favor of filling up the day with three plays. The first was PETA's Skin Deep, a satiric romp on the ups and downs of cosmetic surgery written by Vince de Jesus. (I was late for this one--the show was 10 in the morning.) Mid-afternoon found me at the University of The Philippines for Dulaang UP's Orosman at Zafira, penned in verse by Francisco Balagtas, but reworked with music and stunning choreography, complemented by delicious production design. After dinner, it was intimate theater with Last Order sa Penguin, the Palanca award-winning play of Chris Martinez.

I'm not the best at providing critique for shows like these, but suffice to say I liked them all at varying levels. Then again, it was a bit tough keeping my mind 100% open throughout the day because of the sleep deprivation, but it wasn't enough to stop me from being entertained. Thanks to those who offered complimentary tickets. You know who you are.

I really would like to try out acting again. I'd like to think that I still have some acting chops somewhere in here, though I'm not sure about the discipline. I remember having to memorize kilometric lines, particularly for Angels In America and The Boor, but if there was one thing that I didn't fully acquire during those years was the keen sense of character motivation, which I've only begun to explore fully with my comics work.

After all, mastering character motivation is one key disciplines in acting, and is also a crucial element in the kind of storytelling I'd like to do. To me, if a character's motivation--the reason for being as far as the story goes--isn't definite and urgent enough, then the story's overall quality moves a notch down. There are other elements that can compensate for the lack of powerful motivation, of course, but that's on a case-to-case basis as far as I'm concerned. I'm currently in the process of studying them.

Many times, when young'uns approach me and tell me their story ideas, they usually begin with concept--the vision of the world. If they talk about character, they talk about design, or what the character looks like vis-a-vis another character in manga or anime. Rarely do I hear, "The story is about a [character] who aims to [objective] against a [opposition] set in a [milieu]." That's okay. I used to underplay motivation, too, when I would think about story ideas, but the ideas would eventually turn out empty because I hadn't thought of the driving force of the story--who the lead is what the lead desperately wants.

And maybe, if anything, this would be the first thing I would tell the young'uns down the line, who share with me their story ideas. Concepts are great, cool designs are welcome, and polished art is fantastic, but it should all boil down to a character or a set of characters who can serve as the eyes and ears of the reader. If these characters can convince a reader that their objective is worth pursuing, then the potential for a great story is established.

And I thank you. Bow.


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