By: Glen C. Strathy
The process of creating archetypal characters who perform specific dramatic functions in your novel is the least understood aspect of characterization. Fortunately, it is also an area where Dramatica Theory offers the most profound help.
It is important that each of your major characters plays fulfills an important dramatic function -- a function that is common and vital to most stories. One reason writers sometimes feel reluctant to use character archetypes is that they are afraid of seeming unoriginal. This fear is groundless, for reasons we will cover momentarily. In fact, making sure all the dramatic functions are included in your novel can enrich it greatly.
Many writers don't understand the importance of dramatic functions, or the usefulness of archetypal characters. One reason is that every novelist has a slightly different schedule for creating characters. Some writers start the novel writing process by inventing a group of characters whom they find interesting. Then they imagine putting those characters into situations or confronting them with problems that will force them to act and interact. Out of this action and interaction a plot will eventually emerge. The characters will, in a sense, “choose their roles themselves.” (Of course, quite often these roles end up being those typically performed by archetypal characters.) Nonetheless, this method can produce characters that are wonderfully original.
Of course, the downside is that you can grow very attached to your characters before your plot has gelled. Consequently, you may be reluctant to cut characters that need to be cut when you discover they serve no essential function in your plot – or fail to include characters that fulfill necessary dramatic roles.
Other writers start with a topic or issue they want to explore. They may choose a premise – a thematic message or moral they want their novel to deliver. Then they create characters who can illustrate different points of view, experiences, or attitudes related to the topic.
If you use either of these methods, you may not choose a main character or Story Goal until fairly late in the development process. As a result, you may not have a clear sense of how your characters function in the story for some time. In fact, many writers (pantsers especially) don't take the time to understand how their characters function until after they've written their first draft, if at all. This approach can lead to manuscripts that require much revision.
We think you can save yourself a lot of time by working out character functions early on. The approach we took when creating plot summaries was to start with an Idea for a novel plot that revolves around one character in particular – who will be the main character – and the particular Story Problem he or she is faced with.
If you are following this method, you will find that the process of developing a simple PlotOutline will automatically suggest other characters who are needed to make the story work. In other words, from the very outset you will be creating characters who fulfill important dramatic functions.
Here's how this approach works ...
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