Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Defining characters by survival attributes

There are people who can survive on a single attribute. A model can earn plenty just by being beautiful. An athlete, just by being very strong or fast. Being born rich or well connected might get you through life adequately. Charm will also work wonders that academic degrees will not. Though these attributes work well when they can be used, they don't work always. Models get older, athletes get slower, rich get poorer, etc. We have to live on several levels, and that means being able to survive in a variety of circumstances.

Babies survive because someone looks after them. As we get older we get more capable of looking after ourselves, but we always need someone around to help out. Our degree of self-sufficiency, and the extent we rely on others contributes to the sort of people we are. We find that we look to some people for help, and others look to us for help. This in turn creates the sort of life we have as we seek out those who can help us, and those we are willing to help.


Levels of survival

There are three levels of survival:


Our own capabilities. This includes our skills, experience, intelligence, wealth, property, etc. All those items that are readily available when we need them.


Resources. These include the support that we can assume is there when we want it. It includes family, friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbours, who we can reasonably count on to help us out in need. In fairy tales a characters 'resources' would include magical help in some kind, for example Fairy Godmothers.


Rights. These include those things we are generally entitled to when required. We would expect the hospital to look after us if we were in an accident. The various authorities and services that are set up that we can turn to in times of need. Those rights go with being a citizen, belonging to certain groups, etc.

Robin Hood was capable of looking after himself, and had the support of his men. He had no rights within the country as he was an outlaw, but was fighting for the 'rights of the people' that the bad king had taken away. Robinson Crusoe only had his own capabilities to help him survive. Winnie-the-Pooh has lots of friends he can count on but not much else. The Sleeping Beauty had a rich father, and all the virtues given to her by the fairies. James Bond has charm, skill, techno-wizardry, and full authority of the Government to help him out. By establishing the 'survival potential' of a character you can then set the conditions of a storyline to use them to the full.


List five characters in fairy tales whose survival depended on others helping them out.


Another aspect of survival that comes up all the time in storylines is the 'symbiotic relationship'. This is where two people can survive with each other's help. Typically seen in Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, etc. The 'straight man and funny man' is one form. Batman and Robin is another form. It can also be Roy Rogers and Trigger his horse. Whatever the combination, it is two or more (e.g. the Three Musketeers) who always act as one for their mutual benefit and survival. In effect, they are the family/gang group. They help each other by having complementary skills. This is the basis for forming groups.


List four pairs of characters that always work together in stories.


A special type of pair is the 'mentor and prodigy' The older man/woman who has the experience and knowledge but lost the skill has a friend who is young with talent but not the experience. The relationship depends on the young man admiring the older one while at the same time trying to beat him. The older man tries to retain the superior position as long as possible so as to still be useful. It is partly the situation with Batman and Robin.

We admire people who are good survivors, and in general, try to avoid those who are not, unless we have some commitment to them. We particularly like people who survive and help others to survive, while despising those who survive at the expense of others. These define our heroes and villains.

Certain fields of work breed heroes. We expect to find them in the Military forces. The fact that a soldier risks his life often would not surprise anyone. We would not be too emotional about it if a soldier got killed in line of duty, as our feelings would be something along the lines of 'anyone who becomes a soldier knows the risks.'

The Police, Fire fighters, lifeboatmen, ambulance drivers and various emergency services, though civilian or voluntary operations, are also where we expect people to be heroic. We would feel more emotional if these people got killed or badly hurt, as they are more vulnerable. Heroic doctors and nurses get even more sympathy, as these are people we are more likely to know and identify with. They are not trained to fight but to help. TV series use this source of drama all the time.

Civilians who become heroes by chance, doing something that many of us might be expected to do in certain events, get the most sympathy. For example someone foiling a bank raid, or rescuing a child when there is no one else around to help out. These are instance where circumstances present a situation of our having to make a decision based on little knowledge of what is happening and what the outcome might be. The dramatic appeal goes up even further if it is a child that makes a rescue or even an animal.

In all, the dramatic potential is related to the probability of the event, and the capability of those involved. David and Goliath is a good example of the unlikely hero. Popeye is also the unlikely hero, being much smaller and docile than Bluto his enemy.

The little man who wins comes up in many guises. Charlie Chaplin, Tom and Jerry, Tom Thumb, Jack the Giant Killer, to name a few.

The 'hero' can be summed up as 'someone fighting against the odds'. They win by luck, chance, skill, and a little help from their friends.

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