Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Defining characters by territory

A character's personality at any time is partly dependent upon the situation they find themselves in. Robin Hood survives well in Sherwood Forest because he commands the territory. His skill as an archer and leader might easily get him a good position in the King's army, but the situation would not allow him to exploit his daring and rebel attitudes.

Again, Sherlock Holmes would certainly have been employed by the police, but he would not have been allowed to use his methods that sometimes bordered on crime. Sherlock Holmes territory was a conceptual one where he was 'at home' with his own methods. He was also a loner.

James Bond is also a loner. One cannot imagine him being part of a team. His pattern of working is based on being fully equipped for all occasions either with his skills or with the various gadgets he has.

A character's attitudes at any time are determined by the territory they are in, both physically and conceptually. These are:

Home: Anywhere you are confident. In your house, among friends, or familiar territory. Doing the things you know about.

Neutral: Where you are off familiar territory but can cope easily with the situation.

Hostile: Where you have to be careful about what you are doing or saying.

The process of growing up is essentially being able to move further away from our home territory. This is not just location, but 'intellectual territory' as well. We are happier with people who talk about the things we are familiar with and nervous when we are not sure of our ground.

We all attempt to define 'our territory' in various ways. By showing that the territory is 'ours' we are able to dominate the situation. A child will say to another "it's my ball, you can't play unless you do as I say." The bully says "I'm the strongest. Do as I say. "The boss says "I'm the higher rank, do as I say." The beautiful woman says "If you want me to be nice to you, then do as I say." It is usually much more subtle than that, but we learn the rules of the pecking order as we go along.

When we are on familiar territory we know whom we can boss and whom we must obey. When we venture onto new territory we have to watch how others act to find our position.

Characters act according to the nature of the territory they are in at the time. Adventure stories take place in dangerous territories. Horror stories in the realm of unknown territories, science fiction into conceptual territories. The audience learns about the territories by seeing how the characters react.


List three stories where the main character changes in rank as an essential part of the story (e.g. Cinderella becomes a princess).


Defining characters by performance

A hundred actors could play Hamlet, saying the same words in the same situation, yet everyone does it differently. The director will have cast the actor who performs it best to his interpretation of the scene. To do so, he will have a mental image of what has to come across to the audience. That image of your characters has to be clear in your mind. If you don't have such an image then you will have to search for one.

Collect pictures of someone who represents what you want. Try to imagine them in a variety of situations that they might be in. The image has to somehow sum up the character with looks, movement, mannerisms, etc., in such a way that what they do seems natural in the story. ACT THEM OUT. It is most important that you have your characters clear-cut in your head before you go further into other developments.


Act out the following scenes:

The wolf talking to Red Riding Hood.
The fairy Godmother talking to Cinderella.


Defining characters by their rank

Leaders. These will have the most authority. It may come from being the eldest, the wisest, the most experienced, having the most charisma, or in some way being able to take the initiative on behalf of the group. In some cases they may do little more than voice the opinion of a group. Political leaders, Union leaders, rebel leaders, and the like find that voicing popular opinion is often enough to give them authority. There are also instances where someone is in a situation where leadership is thrust upon him or her. In war or crisis situation the person in the best position to take the initiative may find himself or herself automatically assigned as leader.

Administrators. These can be anyone who gets things done. They are the practical people of the group. In many cases it is the administrator that makes things work. They are often the 'power behind the throne'. Manipulators often take on this role as it allows them to achieve their purpose without being exposed to the risks of overthrow that the leader has.

Intellectuals. These usually have something to say about everything. They are not so practical, and lack the ability to lead, but can contribute with ideas. Such people often set up the situation for the leaders. They supply the arguments and justification for taking certain actions.

Charmers. These are often catalysts in a group. People like having them around, and they perform an incidental task of bringing people together. They like to be the centre of attraction so are commonly found in groups.

Moaners. These complain all the time. They belong to a group because they have some skill the group needs, or someone in the group accepts responsibility for them.

Followers. These are the body of the group. They will be there because the group represents something they believe in, or offers them some advantage.

Clowns. There is always someone in a group who gets attention by being silly, witty, or odd in some way. In some ways they will reflect the purpose of the group by showing its weaknesses, yet in a different way to the moaners.

Within the group there will those who will vie for leadership, or attach themselves to those of power. Some get too strong for the group and leave to form their own groups, or join other groups.

Some will not be able to keep up the groups interests, and so drop out. A person's survival within a group depends on being able to carry out the groups interests. When you define a character within a group you should try to establish the groups interests so that the audience is aware of the characters motivations.


List an example of each of the above categories.

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