Are like people. They don’t do things unless they want to, they feel moved to or they normally would do it. Normally people work this way too. Think about yourself or a friend and why they did something different. Was it because something like money or stress made them realize they needed to do it? Or maybe it was another friend’s problems that caused them to question why they hadn’t yet? Or maybe they had a house fire or were robbed that caused them to do it? In all these, something happens or something inside the person makes them go a different route.
Characters are the same way.
A male who lives in the Kentucky backwoods with a heavy accent and little brain with the name Jimmy Joe Bob will play by certain rules. He isn’t going to college unless a meteor hits and causes him to excel. He probably won’t get the lead hot female either unless she has a thing for dim-witted. And though this is the stereotype only Hollywood could dream up, he isn’t going to do things like join the county club or drink wine with the understanding of how to taste it. No, he is going to hunt possum in the back yard, guzzle beer to no end and say things like
‘I liked school. It was a really neat place. Lots to do. I woulda stayed there but they kicked me out. Mama was real mad too. But my teacher said 25 and out was the rule. I didn’t realize they had rules like that for 9th graders.’
Now I’m not big into stereotypes but you get my point. He can’t do what he isn’t basically programmed by the writer to do. And yes at times, he will even play by rules the writer will swear up and down the writer did not agree to.
Don’t want the stereotype Jimmy Joe Bob…. Don’t name him that to start with and it might help. You could also have something happen like a brother taught him in secret but he was scared he would get in trouble if he acted smart. Have a tragic event take place that makes him think about what will happen to him if his mom dies. Does he try to learn from a good friend so he can go to college or maybe he becomes a writer who didn’t realize he could write ten times better than he can speak.
He has to have something that sets him into action whether the action makes him go do things or his own thoughts make him do things. He can’t just one day wake up and become smart. He can’t take on CEO jobs without something making him be better at it.
Characters are like us. The more you think of them as being like a real person, without losing sight they are not; the more you are able to create a world that allows them to go do the things you wanted them to do. You won’t have to force it.
Happy creating characters!