Continuing my ongoing series on initial character exploration, here are a couple more aspects to consider when looking at what I’m calling your character’s internal world.
Starting with the obvious, it’s useful upfront to determine a general indication of personality type. Is your character an extrovert, outgoing, and naturally friendly? Or just the opposite? If he or she is somewhere in between, where in between?
Think about the character’s basic attitude toward life. Is it upbeat, generally positive and optimistic or is there a tendency to wallow in gloominess, negativity, and depression? Does he see the bright side of things and look at problems as opportunities or just the reverse? Does your character tend to see only the good side of people and give others the benefit of the doubt or, rather, to be judgmental and critical? Does he get angry easily or generally keep his cool? Is she fun to have around or, more often than not, a pain to spend time with?
Of course most people fall somewhere in between these extremes. However, successful characters often push the limits in at least some areas, and this is generally always true for central characters. That’s what makes them interesting and alive. It’s what helps to propel them through the story and create the dramatic sparks that ignite scenes. So in this initial pinning-down process, I suggest you make a conscious effort to give your characters personalities that make a definite statement one way or another.
sense of self
Another significant early choice is to determine the degree to which your characters generally like themselves. There are a number of important self-esteem related questions you need to ask, such as: are your characters comfortable with who they are? Are they at peace with themselves? Do they enjoy being alone? How self-confident are they? Where do they fall on the self-esteem curve? Do they feel superior or inferior to others? Are they riddled with self-doubts or do they have an inflated opinion of themselves? Are they burdened with feelings of guilt? Do they like how they look in the mirror?
All interesting characters are struggling in some way with their own sense of self. In fact, most great scripts are, in some way, dealing with this struggle. Let’s look at three of the greatest American plays for example, all of which later became successful films. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman pushes himself to despair as he progressively loses his self-confidence and self-respect. We watch a man who increasingly is unable to live with himself. In The Crucible John Proctor is ultimately driven to accepting death in order to restore his self-respect. And in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Martha finally admits she’s afraid and needs to embrace herself honestly for the first time in her adult life. You don’t stand a chance of writing a play or screenplay that will be truly alive if at least your main central character isn’t at war with himself or herself in some way.
Next: A look at sexuality and spiritual life