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Humanities LibreTexts

12: Creating Characters

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    39594
  • Creating original characters is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences you will have as an artist. You are bringing something into being through your imagination and audience members will live and see the world through this character’s eyes and experiences and often this fictional character will make a lasting impact on actual people’s lives.

    When creating characters you want to make sure that each individual in your play has a direct tie to the conflict and theme of your story. If for example your conflict or story centers around a plane crashing or disappearing, you want to start by creating the character by its relationship to the event: “I am the captain of the plane that crashed” “I am the widow of a passenger on the plane that crashed” “I am the flight controller that last spoke to the pilot of the plane that crashed” etc.

    This allows you to start with a character directly tied to the event and therefore logically connected to your play. This character is not defined by gender, name, personality, etc. at this point. Once you have created enough characters from this exercise you can begin giving them an identity.

    There are many ways you can explore and develop character’s identities. You can ask actors to improvise a backstory and interview the character. You can go to a public place and base a character off of people you observe. You can base a character off of a friend or acquaintance. Or you can simply use your imagination and create the character from your head.

    One primary component that a character must possess is a strong need or desire or goal that drives their actions and is tied directly to the conflict of the play. Character is all action and character is found and defined for the audience in the character’s actions and how the character pursues their objective or goal. Make sure that each character in your play has a strong and identifiable need and allow that to guide the actions they take throughout the story.

    Once you have selected the characters you wish to have in your play, then assign them to the archetypes in the previous chapter. Who will be your story’s hero? Based on your choice of Hero, who will then be the story’s villain? Who or what is the heroine/ goal/ Mcguffin? Who will be the mentor? Everyone else is a sidekick. Get rid of any character that does not directly serve the plot.

    Playwriting Activities

    With each of the following activities you need to first and foremost have an idea or conflict upon which to base your play. Once you have the idea or conflict you then create a person based on their relationship to the idea or conflict. State the character existence as “I am the (Relationship) to/from the (Idea / Conflict).”

    An example of this would be if your play were based on a conflict centered around an inheritance you would create a character with a phrase like: “I am the favorite child of the person who is bestowing the inheritance.” or “I am the corrupt lawyer in charge of arbitrating the inheritance.”

    Actor Improvisation

    • Create a list of characters and then invite actors to chooses a character to inhabit or portray.
    • Ask the actor to introduce the character to you and to begin by using elements of their real life and somewhere in the middle of the interview or introduction begin blending character information with the actors backstory. This allows you to have a backstory and origin of the character based on reality.
    • Once the actor has introduced the character and talked for a few minutes. Interview them and ask questions. Write down phrases and facts that stand out.
    • Use the notes you have to flesh out the rest of the character and repeat the process with other characters.
    • With the decided characters have class pair up in groups of 3 and create a vignette of how these 3 lives would interact and what scenario they would be in.
    • Select the characters that you find would support your story or produce the most dramatic possibility and begin writing a scene with them.

    Public Observation

    • Create a list of characters and then go to a public place with high foot traffic and find a spot where you can people watch without being intrusive.
    • Observe the people in the area and pay attention to people who are interesting and seem like they could fit into the world of your story. Look for character traits, physicality, identifiable tattoos, etc. and write them down”
    • Once inspired, begin writing a fictional biography about the character. How did they come to be the person you saw in the public space? What is the story behind a limp or tattoo? Create a big event in the character’s life and figure out how it shaped them into who they are now.
    • Select the characters that you find would support your story or produce the most dramatic possibility and begin writing a scene with them.

    Friend, Family Member, or Acquaintance

    • Create a list of characters and then think about people you know in your life who seem as though they could fit into the role of this character.
    • Look at the selected people for character traits, physicality, identifiable tattoos, etc. and write them down”
    • Once inspired, begin writing a fictional biography about the character incorporating what you know about the actual person and embellishing on details and expanding on areas that are unfamiliar. How did they come to be the person you know? What is the story behind a limp or tattoo? Create a big event in the character’s life and figure out how it shaped them into who they are now.
    • Select the characters that you find would support your story or produce the most dramatic possibility and begin writing a scene with them.

    Your Imagination

    • Create a list of characters you think would be interesting to have in your play based on their relationship to your idea and conflict.
    • You do not need any advice for anything else. You are the artist. Use your beautiful imagination and create!
    • Get rid of any character that does not directly serve the plot.
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