Wednesday, October 14, 2020

All About Characters

Characters are the driving force of a play. Without well designed and depicted characters, a play will certainly fall short. There are some types of characters we want to be intimately familiar with (so that they are 'cast' in our plays):

  • A. Dynamic characters: characters that change through the events of the play or story.
  • B. Round characters: characters that are fully developed. They often have contradictory traits. A loving uncle, but a pedophile (How I Learned to Drive), or a wise chauffeur who is illiterate (Driving Miss Daisy), or a cranky old Jewish lady who has a heart of gold (Driving Miss Daisy), a bitter couple who actually love one another, despite their bickering (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), etc. These characters are interesting because they possess contradictory or conflictual traits or qualities.
  • C. Confidante: someone in whom a character can confide or speak his/her mind freely.
  • D. Sympathetic character: a character with whom an audience can identify.
  • E. Unsympathetic character: a character with whom an audience cannot identify. Usually, this character has motives that are questionable, unappealing, or difficult to understand.
  • F: Foil: a character who enhances a quality or trait of a major character or protagonist through contrast.
  • G. Ally: a character who helps the protagonist accomplish, achieve, or learn something.
  • H: Herald/Messenger: Usually a minor character, although not always--this character delivers an important message or brings some sort of external insight to the protagonist.
  • I. Minor characters: stock characters, spear-carriers, static, flat, cardboard cut-out, stereotype, supporting, allegorical, etc.

How do I develop a character?

1. Know what role the character plays in your play/story.

2. Use characterization: what a character says, what a character says about another character, actions, thoughts, or description. Description is best delivered through dialogue in plays. In fiction, it is delivered by description and imagery.

3. Provide backstory through flashbacks (fiction), or monologues (plays)

Your Task:  List 5-10 characters quickly (name (at least) + occupation or an identifying label or two that describes them...)

Ex.  Booth: A hotheaded, unemployed man who allows his older brother, Lincoln, to stay in his apartment. Booth is obsessed with making money and attracting women, though he has neither a job nor a healthy romantic relationship.

Ex. Camae, a maid at the Lorraine Motel who meets and comforts King during what will come to be his last night on earth before his assassination. [Her name is derived from Katori Hall’s mother, Carrie Mae, who stayed home from King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Memphis Sanitation Strike due to bomb threats, and regretted that missed encounter for the rest of her life.]

Ex. Miggy: a 9-year-old Hispanic boy; an energetic, goofy or playful nerd/misfit who is giving a school presentation to his class about his dysfunctional family.

After you have a list of 5-10 characters, choose 3-5 of these characters from your list who might be major characters--characters with whom you might be able to follow their story. The other characters should be labeled "minor" characters or fulfill any of the character types listed above. They might be foils or supporting characters, etc. in a setting or location.

For your major characters, give each one a story goal: this desire or need or character OBJECTIVE should be what makes the character active or willing to cause things to happen. Most character objectives are behavioral. They reflect a desire to affect or change another character's status, life, or circumstance. 

We might classify character objectives as one of four types:

1. to make other characters feel good

2. to make other characters feel bad

3. to find out something important from another character

4. to persuade or convince another character of something important

All scenes develop conflict based on a character's objective. The only exception to this is the monologue, which is primarily used to provide backstory, exposition, or character development.

Turn in your notes for participation credit. We will use these later in future writing exercises.

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