Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Character levels

The development of the character depends on what part they play in the story. There are four levels that characters work on:

  • Main Characters are comparable to lead actors. They are the ones who carry the story along. Mickey Mouse is always a main character.
  • Support Characters. Minnie Mouse is a support character. Support characters are usually an extension of the main character in helping to define them (you can tell a man by the friends he keeps).
  • Role Characters are those that basically play a role rather than a personality. Typically they will be policemen, postmen, waiters, etc., identified by uniform or context. They represent a service rather than being a personality.
  • Dummy Characters are those that flit through the background, or are brought in for the purpose of the moment. A typical dummy character would be a taxi driver picking up a main character, but never used again in the story. It might also be a pet that just adds action to the picture without playing a part. Dummy characters may also be used in the background to set the scene. In a hospital there would be nurses and patients as dummy characters around who are not part of the main story.

Sources of characters

  • Toys. These are visually defined but have no personality. Dolls are easy to define in terms of age but teddy bears can be just about any age. It is more difficult with objects like trains and cars that take on human personalities. The solution is to identify them with someone. A train becomes a symbol for a train driver, who in turn is a particular type of person in age and manner.
  • Comics. Here the characters have design and personalities, but still have to be given voices and attitudes that will extend upon their comic strip personae.
  • Computer Games. Characters taken from this field have their design and action worked out but need to have their personalities developed.
  • Advertising. Cartoon characters taken from advertising will have the design, and possibly voices, but are not in a dramatic situation. They can easily be identified with the market they are aimed at, and stories based on that level of audience.
  • Books. Illustrated books give the characters design and personality, but rarely are the designs suitable for animation. In this case the designs have to be rethought. Sherlock Holmes is instantly recognisable with his deerstalker hat and cape, yet those where not in the stories, they were in the imagination of the artist who illustrated the original stories.
  • Celebrities. Well-known people are the starting point of many cartoon characters. The problem here is to simplify the characters to their essential attributes.

In all, moving from one medium to another is not just a matter of adding the missing elements, it may require rethinking the whole concept of the idea. It is easy to take Donald Duck and make him into a toy, but less easy to take a toy like Donald Duck and make him into a movie character. Try to imagine your characters in various other forms to see how they might work. This will give clues on development. You can also do this with existing ideas. Would Mickey Mouse or Sherlock Holmes work as a computer game, comic strip etc?


Name a character used in animation that has been taken from:

A toy, a comic, a book, a celebrity, advertising, a computer game.


Main characters

For a character to be in a story, they must have something about them that is worth telling. What is worth telling will always come down to two things:

  • They are interesting in themselves.
  • An interesting event has happened to them.

Mickey Mouse is not a very interesting character himself, but he represents 'Mr Average Man' who is put into interesting situations. On the other hand, Donald Duck is more interesting. He is someone who goes about his work normally but someone or something is determined to upset him. Because he is irascible, it does not take long for things to get out of hand. His attempts to resolve the situation provide the interest.

Sherlock Holmes is an interesting character who seeks out interesting events. James Bond is the same. They are the 'adventure seekers.' In fairy tales there are examples like Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Cinderella and the like that are not particularly special, but events change their lives.

On the other hand, Robin Hood, Sinbad the Sailor, Captain Ahab (Moby Dick) go out of their way for adventure.


List three examples of 'innocents' who find themselves in unexpected situations.

List three examples of characters that seek adventure. 


Whichever it is, they will have certain things going for them and certain things that hinder them. Talent, money, friends, power, contacts, luck, intelligence, good looks, etc. They are hindered by bad habits, bad friends, bad luck, lack of insight, psychological aspects, bad goals.


List ten stories where the main character benefits or loses out due to the above items.


Main characters should be so well defined that they sum up a particular type of person. Popeye is a good example. He dresses as a sailor, has an anchor tattoo, has a pipe that he can blow like a ship's horn, and a gruff uneducated voice. He has no pretensions about himself, and sings "I yam what I yam...Popeye the sailor man." Popeye is a stereotype character in that he sums up all those separate elements that have been associated with sailors.

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