Drama is some­thing which proceeds from Char­acter. There must be some­thing within each char­acter which will inev­it­ably spark a reac­tion in another, out of which a conflict will develop and need to be resolved leading to a seem­ingly inev­it­able conclu­sion The crit­ical ques­tion for a (writer) to ask there­fore is : “Why these characters?”

Sheila Yegar

What is a character?

You will quite often hear writers and actors talk about char­ac­ters as though they were real people. Some highly respected writers won’t allow them­selves to know too much in advance about their inten­tions for a char­acter. They say it kills the mystery and there­fore the creative impulse. Getting “inside” a char­acter and “seeing what happens” is akin to an actor impro­vising. It can be exciting and lead to unex­pected discoveries.

Although this kind of mind game can tap hidden creativity (like a vent­ri­lo­quist talking to a dummy), it is important to under­stand that a char­acter isn’t a real person in any useful sense. A char­acter is a meta­phor. Like Frankenstein’s monster; it is a hybrid cooked up in the writer’s imagin­a­tion from obser­va­tion, borrow­ings and a large ingredient of self.


Where do char­ac­ters fit in?

The second important thing to grasp is that Char­acter is inex­tric­ably a part of Situ­ation and Plot; just as a writer’s sense of char­acter is inex­tric­ably related to his sense of the world of his story.

Often it becomes impossible (for the writer) to tell which came first: a plot idea or the aspect of char­acter linked to it”

Steve Gooch (Writing A Play).

faceMost writers begin with at least some idea of a story. They write by shifting back and forth from the “inside” to the “outside” of the action now looking at the story from their char­ac­ters’ view­point; now seeing the char­ac­ters in terms of the plot and modi­fying each until a satis­fying consist­ency is achieved.

Decisions you make about char­ac­ters may be instinctive but they should never be arbit­rary. Remember, Char­acter (in the abstract) is the engine that drives your story; char­ac­ters (in the specific) are the colliding atoms that give substance to the world of your creation.

Once you stop thinking of char­ac­ters as static objects, like pawns on a chess­board and start thinking of them as a dynamic element of your story, you open the way to integ­rating char­acter and plot development.

© David Clough 1995

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