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Ultimately, all people are responsible for who they are and how they behave. ~ Alfred Adler

It is a hard to accept when our characters do things we don’t expect. They seem to tell us they want to do things; that a certain path is where they want to go, that this action or treasure or person is important. Then they go do something else, act a different way, decide to just take a nap.

What is that all about? Are our characters lying to us? Are they just telling us what we want to hear? Or is it that we are trying to force them into some role they don’t identify with? Maybe they are just being nice (which seems like a perfectly good reason to feed them to a shark or werewolf or wood-chipper).

If we go with the idea that characters are people, then it begins to make sense what is going on. If we can suspend our control issues for a moment we see that the character is actually giving us valuable information about who they are by what they do. And, if they make up an excuse, there in lies the golden truth. The excuse really can point us toward their values and goals, or at least clue us in that our expectations for them are incompatible.

“It’s just so hard,” can translate into, “I need a side-kick to bolster my ego.”
“I forgot,” often means, “It was far more important to you than me.”
“I’m tired,” equals, “I’m tired of this conversation so leave me alone.”

It’s also good to look at what the person is doing when they defy your will? If they are playing X-Box in the living room then maybe what they want is an escape. The tinkerer in the garage wants the sense of accomplishment from making something better. The person who didn’t put up a new post since June… (OK no excuse there)

So after hearing their excuse, and stepping back a moment (the wood-chipper should really be shut off) we can sit down with the character and use some empathy. We get to let them open up and tell us what is really important. The less we get hung up on what we want and the more we get interested in what they want the better relationship we will have.

Let’s face it, they are responsible for who they are and what they do, and they are going to do what they want anyway. Only by building up the relationship can we get them to maybe concede to taking out the trash every once in awhile; and try not to smile to much when you realize they value the relationship with you now more than they devalue household chores, or climbing yet another mountain to fight a dragon, or not beating the crap out of the suspect even when they are being such a …