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SMAC! MANGA DOJO #15 – "How to make a charming character ① Define the MOTIVATION!"

Mayuna Mizutani Mayuna Mizutani 02/07/2018 21 min read
<Characters> Penmaru Is a ninja dog who dreams of becoming the greatest manga creator in the animal world. To help achieve his dream, Mocchi gives him a mission… “Learn how to create manga at the Manga Dojo.” First thing he does when he wakes up? Hits the snooze button!    “Shihan” Manga Master The master of the dojo and Penmaru’s tutor in the ways of manga. An experienced editor who has worked in the manga industry for over 30 years. First thing he does when he wakes up? Practices yoga.   <Previously in Manga Dojo> Penmaru is a Ninja dog who is studying how to create good manga, under the tutelage of  Manga Master Shihan. Awake or asleep, their minds are always on manga! But this morning, Penmaru’s mind seems to be set on something different……the TV perhaps?  

Ep. 15  How to make a charming character ① “Define the MOTIVATION!”

  TV: Our nation is suffering a serious decline in birth rate, and ……   Shihan: Yes! Absolutely! Well said!! Japan these days……   Penmaru: Shihan, How can you watch that rubbish on such a bright, sunny morning!   Shihan: Hm, what? This is serious business, I am lamenting the future of this nation!   Penmaru: Come on, Shihan! The “Gekiga Sentai Manga Rangers” is about to start! It’s my turn now!! (Push)   Shihan: Ouch!! Ugh, my “Asamade Touron”……   TV: Gekiga Sentai, Manga Ranger!! In last week’s episode……   Penmaru: Aha, here we go! Hehehe, I cannot wait to see what enemy they’ll confront today!   Shihan: ……What is this peculiar television programme, Penmaru?   Penmaru: Oh Shihan, don’t you know? It’s “Gekiga Senta Manga Ranger”!! My generation love it!   Shihan: Gekiga Sentai……? Is manga featured in the story?   Penmaru: Yeah! They fight against the evil “Shime-kiri” troop, it’s just so epic!!   Shihan: I see…… I am rather a “Space Sherif” person so I don’t know much about this, but is it entertaining?   Penmaru: What?! Of course it is!! Every character is really unique, even the bad guys! I cannot wait to watch it each week!   Penmaru: I wish I could create lots of colorful charming characters, like the Manga Rangers!   Shihan: Well, charming characters are vital for manga creation, indeed……   Shihan: Alright! Today, I will share one of the many ways we can MAKE A CHARMING CHARACTER!! What do you think? Sounds interesting?   Penmaru: Oh, could it be later? I’m really busy right now!! The opening is almost finished!   Shihan: ……     ― About 30 minutes later…―   TV: Next time, “Conquest! Persp Castle!!” Don’t miss it!   Penmaru: Haaaa!! Manga Rangers were sooooo cool, as always!! That “Beta-nuri lazer” at the end…… haaaa, amazing!!!   Shihan: ……   Penmaru: Ah, Shihan! Sorry for the wait! Now I’m ready to learn how to create a charming character!   Shihan: ……Sigh.   Penmaru: ?? What’s wrong, Shihan?   Shihan: Oh, nothing… let’s begin.   Shihan: Creating charming characters…… It is not an exaggeration to say this step is the most important part of manga creation. It is a tough procedure, which involves lots of brainwork……but there’s no need to fear, as long as you know the TIPS!   Penmaru: OK!!   Shihan: Now, here is a TIP you mustn’t overlook – It’s suggested by Hirohiko Araki sensei!   Penmaru: Yay!!    

TIPS 1. Define the MOTIVATION!

  Penmaru: Aha, the MOTIVATION!!   Penmaru: ……Excuse me, Shihan, but haven’t you mentioned that before?   Shihan: I may have. But I cannot emphasize enough how “MOTIVATION” is vital for making a lively character.   Penmaru: Is that so?   Shihan: Of course. Because MOTIVATION defines the PRINCIPLE of the character, which decides the character’s ACTION. In other words, it’s the MOTIVATION that makes the world of manga go round!   Penmaru: Motivation……Principle……??   Shihan: Not clicking with you? Let me elaborate with examples…   Shihan: Imagine you are creating a story about a super hero…… WHY do you think our protagonist helps people?   Penmaru: ??? Because he’s a hero, right?   Shihan: Well, that is true, but not 100% correct.    Shihan: Imagine, one day you are told by someone to “save people, because you’re a hero!”…… Would you really think “Alright, I’ll become a hero, then”?   Penmaru: Hmm…… probably not!   Shihan: Not very likely, eh? Even if you do start working as a hero, with such weak motivation, you’d quit immediately the second you stumble upon a problem… simply because you have no reason to face the challenge.   Penmaru: Right! And I’m really tough as well!   Shihan: Characters are HUMAN, just like you. They would most likely feel the way you feel. If you feel “why me?” in such situations, then your protagonist will also think “why me?”……and even if your character begins acting like a hero, simply because of the “mission”, he would soon quit the hero business, once he starts thinking “this isn’t what I expected……”. Don’t you think?   Penmaru: Ugh…… Reality is cruel……   Shihan: BUT! What if your protagonist has some kind of motivation, like the following?
  • “His parents were killed by an evil gang, so he seeks for revenge”
  • “He was saved by another hero when he was little, so he wants to become a hero too”
  • “He wants to be popular with girls” 
  Penmaru: !! Then he probably wouldn’t quit easily! And it makes more sense why the protagonist became a hero in the first place!   Shihan: Absolutely. This, is the power of MOTIVATION.   Shihan: Even from a reader’s perspective, having a MOTIVATION is super effective; it makes the character feel more sympathetic. That is, the readers want to follow and support a protagonist if he has a certain reason to drive him, rather than having no special reason at all.   Shihan: For example, which of the following would you want to support: Kenshiro, who fights because that’s his fate, or Kenshiro who fights to restore his peaceful life with his love – Yuria?   Penmaru: !! I think I would cheer for the Kenshiro who wants to live with Yuria……   Penmaru: Oh, but hang on! Then how about the protagonist who just happens to be involved in an incident. Like……slapstick kinda stories where a protagonist suddenly has to live together with a girl? Do they have motivation, as well? I can’t come up to any……   Shihan: Of course they do! Well, MOTIVATION don’t always have to be something proactive. MOTIVATION is not always something ambitious, like “I want to become the strongest man in the world,” or “I want to become a legendary superstar.” It could be something more trifle, like “I want a peaceful life”, “I want to become popular”, or even “I want money”. These MOTIVATIONS can all define the ACTION of the characters, thus making the story move forward.   Shihan: Take a slapstick romcom with a passive protagonist, for example. In my perspective, most of the protagonists already have a different love interest, or in some cases, they are not interested in love at all. But one day, a girl suddenly appears in front of him, becomes an obstacle for the protagonist’s desire…… How would the protagonist COPE with that girl/obstacle? That battle is, in my opinion, the charm of those romcom stories!   Penmaru: (Isn’t he a bit too familiar with those settings……? Does he like romcoms?)   Shihan: Let’s take a look at other cases of passive protagonists. If it’s a “Tripping-to-other-world” kind of story, maybe the protagonist wants to get back to his own world. Or, maybe something makes him want to help the people he meets in that other world. If it’s a zombie apocalypse story, the protagonist’s motivations would be very obvious: SURVIVAL!   Shihan: In either case, fulfilling these “MOTIVATIONS/AIMS” would be the ultimate goal of the story, and what the story is all about.   Penmaru: I see! As I learned the other day, a character has a goal he wants to achieve in any situation, and a story depicts how the character tries to achieve that goal!   Penmaru: ……Then again, how about “slice-of-life” stories? I kinda feel that they are far away from “trying to achieve something”.   Shihan: It would depend on where the story is set, and what kind of life it wants to depict, I guess. For example, a slice-of-life food manga would be about a protagonist “wanting to eat yummy food”.    Shihan: In ZENON, there has been a slice-of-life manga about students in a manga school. In that case, the character’s motivation is obviously “want to become a manga creator”.   Shihan: Ultimately speaking, something as simple as “Just wanna have fun” “Just want to hang around” would work as a motivation, as well!   Penmaru: Hmmm……   Shihan: Be careful  not to overcomplicate the main point. Long story short, this step is for PURIFYING the CHARACTER’S NEEDS.   Penmaru: Purifying the NEEDS?   Shihan:”WHY does this character have to appear in the story?” “WHY does HE/SHE have to take that action?”…… If there’s no psychologically convincing reason for a certain character or action, the story just feels fake and flimsy.   Shihan: Once the reader feels, “…But it doesn’t have to be this guy, right?”, they would stop reading the manga. So, to show them the reason why the characters exists, we must show the MOTIVATION and the PRINCIPLES in ACTION.   Penmaru: I see……!   Shihan: We can say that a manga character- especially the protagonist- is a person who DOES THE THING HE DOESN’T HAVE TO. Ultimately speaking, one can simply say “None of my business” to any kind of troubles, and walk away… That’s the smartest way to live life in peace. But charming characters NEVER do such ordinary things – they face the challenge, no matter how hard, and saves the day in a fascinating way. And the reason why the character takes the “non-ordinary” way, is the MOTIVATION.   Penmaru: Coming to think of that, Kenshiro doesn’t really need to fight, Naruto doesn’t really have to become a Hokage, Luffy doesn’t have to become a pirate king, and Goku doesn’t have to fight as well, if they want an ordinary life…… but they have a reason to achieve their goals, and that makes the story more entertaining! And that reason is MOTIVATION!   Shihan: Absolutely! Don’t forget, this is just one method of creating an interesting character. Every creator has their own methods of working, and when you’re more experienced, you’ll develop your own method that works best for you. Keep on with the good work!   Penmaru: Hehehe~!   Penmaru: Alright… to make a charming character, I’m gonna do something PROTAGONISTIC as well!   Penmaru: I know!! I’ll start from fixing the manuscripts of the rookie manga creators sent to Shihan! It’s something I don’t have to do, but will make someone happy! Alright!!   Shihan: WAIT, YOU WILL WHAT!? WHY !? That’s JUST doing something you don’t have to do…… are you listening to me Penmaru!? Hey!?!?   “Manga characters do things they don’t need to do, under a certain MOTIVATION” Inspired by Shihan’s lesson, Penmaru starts searching for a PROTAGONISTIC action…… Would he be able to create a charming character, at this rate!?   Did you enjoy reading this story? Did you find the hints and tips to improve your manga production? If YES, please share the article with your fellow creators! If NO, please let me know how we can improve Penmaru’s journey! We welcome any and all kinds of opinions and questions, requests and comments, day and night! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for updates 😉
Script: Mayuna Mizutani – Follow me on Twitter and Facebook Illustration: Roberto F. – Support him on Instagram, Facebook & Tweet your questions / opinions / reviews at #SMACMangaDojo, and I will answer! 😉
Mayuna Mizutani

Mayuna Mizutani