Screenwriting Advice: Give Your Characters the Power of the VOTE

By Gerald Hanks • December 20, 2021

Characters drive stories. Powerful characters give writers reasons to create stories around them. Directors want to create moments around that power. Actors want to channel that power. Audiences want to take part in that power. As a writer, your job it to give them that power in every line of the script. They give audiences someone to watch, to love, to admire, or to hate.

Years ago, I took acting classes in college. One of the tools that the instructor gave us came from an acting book by Robert Cohen called Acting One. In his book, Cohen outlined his techniques with the acronym GOTE:

Goal
Obstacles
Tactics
Expectation

Cohen recommended that actors “Get their GOTE” to understand how to portray their characters. As a writer, you can also benefit from this technique, but I've given it a slight twist – not to mention simplifying the mnemonic device. Remember this: every character should have the power of the VOTE.


V for Victory
The character's Victory answers the question, “What does he want in this story?” Strong characters either have something that they want to accomplish, protect or regain, which compels them into action.

Character 1: He wants to win the championship.
Character 2: She wants to leave her abusive husband and take the children.
Character 3: He wants to capture the murderer.

This answer always comes in the form of action verb, NEVER a “being” verb. Powerful characters don't whine about their jobs, gaze at their navels or pontificate about the meaning of life.

O for Obstacles
The character's Obstacles answer the question, “What's stopping him from achieving his Victory?” You must place obstacles in that character's path that force him to go over, under, around, or through them.

Character 1: The current champion is undefeated.
Character 2: Her husband keeps her from the children.
Character 3: He can't get to the evidence he needs.

These Obstacles can be as small as a cancer cell or as large as the entire universe. They can be an innate personality flaw or a fifty-story brick wall, but they have to represent a series of challenges the character must overcome to reach his victory.


T for Tactics
The character's Tactics answer the question, “What's he going to do to got past the Obstacles and achieve his Victory?” Tactics can not only include the actions the character takes to reach the Victory, but also those actions the character refuses to take.

Character 1: He trains as hard as possible, but refuses to take steroids.
Character 2: She sues for custody, but refuses to reveal a family secret.
Character 3: He uses every method within the system, but he won't break the rules.

In the best stories, the character must choose between his Victory and his original of Tactics. The first choice of Tactics never works (or else the story would be over in thirty seconds), so the character must use Tactics which either are beyond his current abilities or that violate his beliefs. These dilemmas create conflict and ignite the story.


E for Energy
The character's Energy Need answers the question, “What drives him to want to achieve his Victory?” While a character's Victory is always tangible, the Energy is usually intangible. The Energy forms the character's emotional driving force throughout the story.

Character 1: He needs to prove himself to his father.
Character 2: She needs to rescue them from an abusive environment.
Character 3: He needs to show that the “justice system” can truly deliver justice.

Powerful emotions create meaningful motivations and spur characters into memorable actions. Each character's Energy forms the fuel for their part of the story.

Power of the VOTE
When you develop a VOTE for each character, you give them power. Just as the ballot box gives voters the power to choose their leaders, the VOTE gives characters the power to take control of their side of the story.

Gerald Hanks

If you're looking for help in creating your own universe of characters, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer coverage reports, script consultation, and rewrite services for aspiring writers in all genres.

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