Character Development Tips for Actors – How to Identify and Utilize Your Character Motivational Impulse

The process in which you must take to create a realistic and believable character can greatly vary from one actor to the next, as the art form of character development is a highly personalized process. Even so, throughout my years of working on the stage and in front of a camera, I have learned countless tips and techniques aimed toward helping actors find the character and deliver a realistic and highly convincing performance.

As an actor, it is important that you understand exactly what your character wants (desires) and how he will achieve this goal, which is referred to as the motivational impulse.

The motivational impulse is the force that drives your character to reach his overall goal and objective. Finding the root cause of the motivational impulse is a vital step in creating a character.

Finding the Action

A motivational impulse that does not cause an action within your character is worthless. When determining what your character’s motivational impulse is, you must look for clues that actually drive your character forward within the story.

For example, let’s say that your character was adopted and wishes to discover his birth parents. The primary objective of this story is clear: to locate his birth parents, but what is his motivational impulse? You could easily say, “His motivational impulse is to locate his parents.” While this is true, this impulse does not immediately cause an action.

On the other hand, his motivational impulse is likely to be, “I want to find my birth parents in order to determine who I come from and why I was given up for adoption.” This motivational impulse is one that can be broken down into many different layers, and has a wide array of emotions attached to it.

Stating Your Motivational Impulse

Once you have read the script several times, you must then engage in stating the actual motivational impulse. In order to do this, you must create a statement that allows your character to meet his objective through action.

Unworthy motivational impulse statements include, “I want to be happy” or “I want to be rich.” While these statements can cause some sort of action, they are bland and widely too vague.

Examples of more action-oriented motivational impulse statements include: “I want to get revenge on the student who keeps bullying me for being gay.”

“I wish to make people laugh in order to divert attention to my own social anxieties or physical disabilities.”

As you can see, these motivational impulses require the actor to create numerous actions in order to satisfy these needs and desires.

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