Creating Characters
Characters: Creating Characters
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How do we develop our own personalities?

How do we see ourselves and how do others see us? Finding our identity is difficult. We are what we are due to three main factors; Nature (What we inherit) Nurture (how we are brought up) and chance (unpredictable elements that change our course of life). We use what we have and what we know best to attain what we want from life, but we don't always know ourselves that well. We discover ourselves partly through how others see us. Their remarks affect the face we put on to the world. Once we discover our good points then we try to reinforce them, and hide our bad points.

We may well reinforce attributes that are of little value to us directly but seem to be what others expect of us. A cute child may develop cuteness because it is the thing that gets the most attention, but in fact undermines it in other ways. Characters in stories have greater depth if we know how they see themselves, and how they think others see them.

Take the following attributes and give them a score:

Use the scale of 1 = lousy, 2 = bad, 3 = average, 4 = pretty good, 5 = great.

























Hard working


(Add other attributes you think appropriate).

An average person would even out at about 30, but an extreme person might also get 30 by being great at several things and bad at others. Use this scale to work out your characters.

Here are some other elements you might take into account:

- How ingenious is a character, what special attributes do they have for problem solving?

- How aware are they of others?

- What are their interests, what sort of conversations do they have with themselves?

- Is the character based on someone?

- What mannerisms come over?

- What assumptions does the character have about the world, and how does the character see himself?


Defining characters by their problems

We all know people who have the same problems over and over again. They never seem to learn. Many cartoon characters are like this. Bluto never gives up trying to win Olive Oyl, Sylvester never gives up trying to get Tweety Pie, Bugs Bunny never seems to change his abode in spite of having the same enemies around. It is an inherent part of cartoon characters they don't mature. The type of problems they have is part of their character, as with all of us. These problems play a main part in the story structure.

Characters can be analysed by the sort of problems they have. Here are some examples:

Sherlock Holmes' problem is that he is easily bored, so needs complex situations to sort out. James Bond is also bored, but he needs action and glamour. Popeye only needs Olive Oyl, but she needs excitement, so invites the attentions of other men. Popeye's problem then becomes one of always having to rescue her to prove his love. Tom Thumb's problem is that he is small, so has to prove himself.


Defining characters by their hobbies and pets

People are private. They like to be by themselves at some time. They like to keep certain aspects of their nature private. They may be close to some people, and may well present different faces to different people. They may well be quite different in private to what they are in public. Hobbies and pets are ways of being alone. People talk to their pets, and even flowers. Having an idea of people's interests and pets is an indicator of their personality. We know that Mickey Mouse has Pluto, but what sort of pet would Donald Duck have, or James Bond, or Superman. It is a common joke that people tend to have pets that reflect their own personalities, and even looks. We can imagine a flighty lady with a French poodle, or a wrestler with a bulldog. Try to imagine the ideal pet for your own characters.


Defining characters by their props

In this case props means an identifying item that characters nearly always have. Sherlock Holmes and Popeye have pipes. Bugs Bunny is nearly always chewing a carrot. Groucho Marx had his cigar, while Harpo Marx had his motor horn. Long John Silver had his parrot, he also had a stick that he waved around. The rabbit in Alice in Wonderland had a large watch, while the Mad Hatter had an odd hat. These props reinforce the image, and add considerably to the identity of the character. Props should be a natural item to have. Bugs Bunny may carry sticks of lighted dynamite in his pocket, but that's OK in his case. It would be inconsistent to have Mickey Mouse do the same.

A good prop will extend the character. Just as a child may carry their favourite toy around without actually playing with it, a prop becomes part of the character, and makes them easy to identify in a group.


Defining characters by their speech

When a character speaks the listener picks up the following information:

  • The gender
  • The content of what is being said
  • The dialect showing where the speaker is from
  • The accent showing the speakers background
  • The attitude showing how the speaker relates to the listener
  • The rank of the speaker
  • The role of the speaker
  • The state of mind of the speaker, shown by mannerisms (relaxed, agitated)
  • Speech impediments (stammers, stutters, lisps)
  • The target of the speaker (to one or several people)
  • The intelligence of the speaker
  • The confidence of the speaker
  • Nuances and inflections that suggest more than the speaker is actually saying
  • Body language that reinforces the speakers' attitudes and message
  • Mannerisms (ums, errs, pauses, etc.)

The listener in return responds to these clues in the appropriate way with posture and gestures, which reinforces the message.

Although animated characters will not have all the subtleties of performance an actor can give, they can exaggerate the main attitudes and responses. It is very important that animated characters are acted out and rehearsed. It is not good enough simply to draw them looking right if they cannot perform in a way consistent with their looks.

Popeye is readily recognised by his gruff voice. Bugs Bunny by his speech mannerisms of saying "Yeahhhhh...what's up Doc?" Finding the right voice for your character is very important. Try watching a cartoon film with the sound off, and then with your eyes closed to see what you can pick up. Make sure your voices are distinct from one another. If one actor is doing a range of voices it is easy for one character to slip into another. This can be overcome by using speech mannerisms to distinguish them. Learn by listening to how people speak. And remember that we all speak differently to different people. We speak more slowly to children, older people, deaf people, less intelligent people. We speak faster when we are excited. We speak more precisely over the phone. We speak louder to a group.

People also tend to make gestures just before they speak to indicate that they intend to. The make gestures to show that they have said what they have to say. They make gestures while someone else is talking to show if they understand, agree, or disagree with what is being said.

Friends talk differently than strangers. Work out what has to be said, how it has to be said, and the situation that is to be said in.

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