Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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Defining characters by hypocrisy

Hypocrites are those who pretend to believe something different (and usually better) than they really believe. A politician might state that State schools are good for everyone, yet send their own children to private schools. A religious leader might preach moral values yet have a sleazy secret life. Salesmen are expected to be liars, and hypocrisy goes with the job. Lawyers may well defend someone they know to be guilty, yet presenting them as innocent. It is well known that in Opinion Polls the many people are likely to express opinions that are acceptable rather than what they actually believe.

To some extent the majority of people are hypocritical about something or other. Our place in the world depends on how others see us, and to some extent on how others want to see us. We may want to see our idols as pure, unblemished people, and refuse to see they are normal people. This creates a situation where the idols have no choice but to cover up their private lives. This in turn creates another group who is intent on uncovering their private lives. The Sunday Papers thrive on such material.

There is also great satisfaction to be had from seeing 'how the mighty have fallen' when their sins are uncovered. Typical areas of hypocrisy are:

  • Making out we are socially better than we are
  • Making out we are richer than we are
  • Making out we are cleverer or more qualified than we are
  • Making out we have higher moral values than we do
  • Making out we can cope with our life better than we can
  • Making out our ambitions are higher than they are
  • Making out we are more satisfied with things than we are
  • Making out we achieved more than we did
  • Making out we are more generous than we are
  • Making out we are better people than we are

In some cases we can be hypocritical for good reasons. We might tell a seriously ill person that they are better than they are so that they do not worry too much. We may tell a friend that they are more competent than they are in support of them. We will normally tell children how good they are when they make something, as a way of encouraging them.

Again, we do not normally believe much that we are told in adverts or junk mail. That is, we assume it overstates the products and services. We also assume that the people who create these items know we don't believe it.

We assume that if we take our car to be repaired or call in a builder to do a repair they overestimate the time and cost.

In general people have jobs or a lifestyle that requires them to:


Present facts as they think they are.


Present facts better than they are.


Present facts worse than they are.

Write out which of the above three categories the following people fit into:

Nurses - Scientists - Weather forecasters - Estate agents - Lawyers
Insurance salesmen - Vets - Policemen - Bookies - Garage mechanics
Teachers - Public Relations Officers
Politicians (for the reigning party and the opposition) - Bank Managers
Farmers - Ballet dancers - Bank robbers - Philosophers
The mirror of Snow White's stepmother


Defining characters by eccentricities

Charlie Chaplin's walk, dress, and way of dealing with problems made him a screen Character. To a large extent such characters live in their own world, and are not influenced by what is generally accepted as normal by most people. It is the character's manners, habits, style, and attitudes that define them.

Again, the problem of consistency has to be well thought out. Chaplin's 'weirdness' extended to everything he did in a story. Not only did he do odd things, he did them in an odd way. The humour was in the fact that basically, he was trying to do what normal people do in a normal way. His end points were understandable.

The key to eccentricity is that it does not prevent the character achieving his ends. Groucho Marx walked in an odd way, as did Stan Laurel and Sylvester the cat. Outrageous clothes, speech mannerisms, odd habits and beliefs are all part of a Character's eccentric make-up that helps to define them. It can extend to having odd pets and friends, living in odd places, and having odd phobias, like believing we are being invaded by little green men.

Eccentricities can be brought out gradually. Most of us have them yet they don't show until the right circumstances present themselves. A perfectly normal person might faint at the sight of a spider crawling towards them, while another will assume snakes make perfect pets. A very rich person might be mean over trivial sums. A mild person might fly into a fury over a minor incident. Eccentricities are developed over the years, so if you are going to use them in your characters, try and work out a reason for them.

When using eccentricities, make sure to get the right level. A person who is offbeat may just have a very personal style, but be otherwise normal. To be outlandish means taking odd a bit too far, but without offending. Eccentric people are usually quite contained. Peculiar people we tend to distance ourselves from. Bizarre people we either accept or reject. Grotesque people we avoid at all costs. Weird, unreal, strange, abnormal, ludicrous, outré, are all words that describe different types of behaviour that makes a person different from 'normal'. Once you set your level of abnormal behaviour, don't stray too far from it.


List the eccentricities of the following characters:

King Midas - Sherlock Holmes - Bugs Bunny - Donald Duck
Wimpy (friend of Popeye) - Pinocchio - W.C. Fields
Groucho Marx - Harpo Marx - The Wizard of Oz
The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland


Defining characters by questionnaire

Here is a questionnaire set out in a national paper. It puts forward certain questions that are aimed to give insight in the person rather than their views of the world:


What is your idea of perfect happiness?


What are your greatest fears?


With which historical figure do you identify?


Which living person do you most admire?


What trait do you most deplore in yourself?


What is your most embarrassing moment?


What is your greatest extravagance?


What object do you always carry with you?


What makes you depressed?


What do you most dislike about your appearance?


What is your favourite smell?


What is your favourite word?


What is your favourite building?


What is your favourite fantasy?


How did you vote in the last election?


How will you vote in the next election?


Should the Royal family be scrapped?


Do you believe in capital punishment?


Do you believe in monogamy?


What or who is the greatest love of your life?


Which person do you most despise?


Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


What is your greatest regret?


When were you happiest?


How do you relax?


What would your motto be?


How would you like to die?


Do you believe in life after death?


How would you like to be remembered?


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?


Create a character of the opposite sex and list the above points.

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