The Surprising MacGyver Method Bestselling Authors Use to Hack Science and Make Massively Magnetic Characters

MacGyver Method Blog Post

There is ONE simple – but immensely ignored – trick bestselling authors use to hack science and create massively magnetic characters.

Quick. Think of your favorite story. Your favorite movie. Your favorite cereal.

Got them?

Good. Now, what images popped into your mind? Dialogue. Maybe. Plot. Good chance. Coco Puffs? You rebel you! Odds are very high that the most vivid images streaming across the HD screen of your mind were….characters.

Maybe not for the cereal – that was just a joke. Let me know what your favorite is, anyway, in the comments. Mine, by the way, is Special K with strawberries.

Wait. But maybe cereal uses the same psychological hack, too. Cereal companies craft memorable story campaigns with cool, fun, memorable characters. Hmmm…

Why do we often remember characters? And, for the love of the writing gods, how can we steal the secrets of bestselling authors, hack science and design our own unforgettable characters?

The Bizarre Psychological Hack Exploited by World-class Marketers, and Backed By Science

We are biologically programmed to notice and remember people. Other homo sapiens. Humans. Long ago that kept us safe, helped us to survive. If we didn’t pay attention to that other guy over there, he might clobber us with a rock and steal all our food. And that would be very hard to explain to his cave wife. We are programmed to pay attention to life, movement and humanity. The biological code to notice people remains within us, buried in the subconscious, but radically present and perpetually active.

The most dominant members of any species are those that pay attention.

Marketing, advertising, book covers, video games and cartoons are crowded with pictures and archetypes of people – or animals, objects and animations endowed with human characteristics (i.e. smile, laugh, hug, hurt, etc). Enter SpongeBob, The Most Interesting Man, and half-naked lovers splashed on romance novels everywhere.

The Surprising MacGyver Method Bestselling Authors Use to Hack Science & Make Massively Magnetic Characters

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 5.58.00 PM

What this? It’s nothing. Photo courtesy of Flickr, TNS Sofres – license

Call it the Lightbulb Phenomenon. Call it the MacGyver Method (my personal favorite). We pay attention to human or human-like characters, yes, but  – and here’s the secret of bestselling authors – we are magnetized to resourceful people.

Why? Resourceful people (characters) are much better at surviving. Shrewd characters thrive in ingenious ways almost as if they exist on a higher plane where bubblegum and Q-tips equal life rafts and advanced weaponry.

Enter Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Batman,  Jack Bauer, Odysseus, Jason Bourne, Huckleberry Finn, Tarzan, and almost every movie role played by Tom Cruise, ever.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 6.05.27 PM

He’s even cool as a Lego. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones, Flickr – license

In fact, if you study story, you quickly find that clever characters are the most memorable. They are the characters of bestselling books and blockbuster movies.

Bestselling author, James Scott Bell, put it this way: bestselling characters have "grit, wit and It". 

5 Easy Ways to “MacGyver” Your Story 

  1. Designer Characters: Build cleverness, resourcefulness and adaptation into your characters. MacGyver is a perfect example. He IS resourcefulness. It’s the one word you think of when you think of him. Your character doesn’t have to be ALL resourcefulness, but he or she should have the trait. Besides, not every character can take over a nuclear submarine with a toothpick and a Cheerio.
  2. Personalize it: Each character has their own specialized set of skills, abilities and resources. Tap into their unique resourcefulness. Places to look for interesting, never-seen-before resourcefulness: profession, hobbies, geography, background, religion, group or organizational involvement, experience, strengths, and even their flaws. Give your readers something they have never seen before. They will not only love you for it, they will also share that love with everyone they know.
  3. Show It Early: The early bird gets the reader. Show your character being resourceful early in the story to establish the trait (and engage the reader!). Consider doing it in the first chapter of the book. Certainly before the “middle” of the story.
  4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: Apply the trait and actions of resourcefulness throughout the story. The middle is where the story problems get worse (and then much, much worse), so this is a great place to show characters being resourceful. Aim for at least three scenes or beats of resourcefulness.
  5. Bring Out the Big Guns: I don’t mean actual guns. If your character has big guns, there is little reason for noodling together a makeshift spear gun from belly button lint and cauliflower. What I mean is “save the best for last.” Most story problems escalate to catastrophes by the end. This is when your character, beaten and bruised and shackled to a airplane about to explode, somehow reaches deep and pulls out his or her last ounce of resourcefulness. The biggest problems demand the greatest resourcefulness. And it’s the biggest, baddest, coolest thing ever.

Now, back to the important question: cereal. Leave your favorite in the comments. 

And while you’re at it, I’d be honored if you would also join our email community to get weekly exclusive writing tips, free stories, and updates about what I’m doing, learning and discovering. Join at the link below:

Yes, I’m joining the email community! (and I also secretly want to BE MacGyver)


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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Posted in screenwriting, writer, Writing
4 comments on “The Surprising MacGyver Method Bestselling Authors Use to Hack Science and Make Massively Magnetic Characters
  1. Juli Hoffman says:

    Cheerios, plain or honey nut, I’m a Cheerios gal. 😉

  2. Lyn says:

    In summer it’s special K Nourish (with almonds, sunflower seeds and cranberries) and winter it’s oatmeal with diced apple and sultanas 🙂
    I love McGyver! I’m thinking Bourne is maybe a modern equivalent (sort of) and if I was a kid now, I’d want to be Alex Rider. My granddaughter introduced me to him when she bought me a copy of Stormbreaker. She has a lot to answer for that girl–she’s always introducing me to new books and causing me lack of sleep 🙂
    The saying, “trap your protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at him” is something we should all aim for…but it’s even better if you fire the rocks at him from a cannon 😀

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