A Character's DNA: A Study

By now, you've noted that my work on the DNA of a plot (End-ines and Begin-ines), a scene (Scare-ine), or even of the basic atoms responsible for a story (Tensiontrons) haven't landed me a nobel prize.

And I know what the issue is.

The selection committee obviously prefers character driven fiction over plot.

As the great poet Homer said: D'OH.

How could I be so blind?

As any good scientist would, upon realizing this, I delved eyebrows deep into uncovering the building blocks of good characters.

Guess what I found.

That's right! *We high-five and I fix my nerd glasses*

The DNA of a character is the same as a beginning, a middle, and an end of a plot. It's identical makeup to a scary scene or a romantic one. Hidden deep within the cellular nucleus of a character--both main and minor--are double-helices of Hook-ine, Theme-ine, Voice-ine, and Care-ine.

Let us dive deeper.

(Note: I understand some of you may need a refresher on the particular functionality of each molecule, so I'll be plagiarizing/tweaking my previous definitions here a little to get everyone up to speed.)

  • Responsible for making sure there’s a reason to read onward to the next word or next page. Often, Hook-ine appears as the questions/problems driving the characters.
  • In the most basic form, these are the wants or needs of a character. It produces the motivation in the full-novel and on a scene-by-scene basis. 
  • An example: Katniss wanting to make it out of the arena alive is her global want. On the beat level, there's a scene where she needs to get Peeta meds. 
  • Facilitates the general shape of the story.
  • On first glance, appears to not be present in a character since theme-ine deals much more on the plot/scene level. However, upon closer inspection, theme-ine actually is an integral part of a character's DNA. 
  • Theme-ine is present in how the characters act/react to the theme of the story. A main character may embody a particular view point of a theme while the antagonist represents the opposite. Or possibly the main character may struggle with conflicting positions internally. 
  • A simple example is Katniss embodying the struggle of the outer districts vs. President Snow being the all-powerful, oppression of the Capitol. Internally, Katniss struggles with her will to survive vs. her desire to help others do the same.   
  • Generates the cosmetic way a book presents itself. Little is understood about Voice-ine, but it definitely creates mood and tone.
  • For fully dimensional novels, Voice-ine saturates every word of every character. It can be potent enough to eliminate the need for dialogue tags because it's apparent who's speaking. 
  • Voice-ine doens't mean the overuse of hard-to-read accents (hay ma', ya doin' fine hare?), but rather of word choice, cadence, and the like. 
  • It's also apparent in character's body language. 
  • Haymitch, Gale, and Effie sound entirely unique from each other. Additionally, Effie has dainty and controlled mannerisms, whereas Haymitch is more like a rabid, drunk bull in most scenes. 
  • Care-ine’s major function is to provide a reason for a reader to dive into the book. Care-ine is a critical component to main characters, but also to villains (the reader wants Cato to die almost as bad as he/she want Katniss to live).
  • The most mysterious of the building blocks, Care-ine transcends the written word and touches the reader in a primal and personal manner. 
  • Care-ine is what makes us like Katniss as she hunts to provide for her family that first morning. And it cements it further when we volunteers in place of her sister. 

Folks, THAT is what makes character's great. Of course, taking all these components and mixing together in a petri dish doesn't necessarily spit a 3D character out in 90 minutes. It takes revisions of tweaking, hours of brainstorming, and pages of backstory to get all the "-ines" in the right places for  a character to develop out of the primordial sludge.

If this study doesn't win me that Nobel Prize...nothing will!   


Bret! I think you SHOULD win the Nobel Prize! Great post! :)

I agree with Robin. How do we nominate you?

Can I get a 3D character printer, please? Great summary, Bret! You've got a gift for making me chuckle!

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