Thor, Iron Man, and Character Motivation
You see the Avengers? Of course, you and the rest of America?
But have you seen it twice? Yes? You and the rest of the America.
There’s a lot I could say about the film, but what I want to call attention to now is when
Thor steals Loki from the Avengers. What follows is an all out brawl between Thor and Iron Man using very fancy, sophisticated ways of saying, “Don’t steal what I’ve stolen.”
We can learn two things from this. First, good dialog is people telling each other “no” in interesting ways. This creates conflict and can ratchet up the tension.
The second point is this: Even though they eventually end up on the same side, they’re not when they first meet. They have their own motivations.
Quite often, as writers, we fall prey to the beginner’s writer’s trap of giving our characters the motivation of the author. Simply put, our characters behave and speak in such a way as to further the plot which we, the writer, want it to go. We don’t allow them to have their own motivations.
Example: Joss Whedon wants Thor and Iron Man on the same team. So Thor steals Loki and says, “He’s my brother. This is family business.” Iron Man says, “Actually, we just arrested him. He killed a few dozen people.” Thor says, “I understand your point. By all means, take him, and allow him to face your justice.”
Would this work? Yes. Would it be epic? No. It removes the conflict, and thereby the reason to have two amazing superheroes unleashing on each other. More heinous, it would strip Thor of his true motivation—returning Loki to Asgard for the sake of justice and love.
When creating your characters, resist the urge to start with a list of characteristics. Instead, focus on what they truly want. Once you’ve identified that, put something between them and the object of their desire (let’s say Iron Man). Remember, whatever stands between them must have an organic (as opposed to contrived) reason for being there.
Think of your character’s motivation. Ask yourself this: did you push that motivation on them? What would your character say is their one desire? Allow their answer to surprise you. When you do this, you create a surprising, organic, memorable character.