Dramatica Theory Book: Chapter 3

Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story

By Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

Chapter 3

Introduction to Characters

Hero Is a Four Letter Word

It is easy to think of the principal character in a story as “the hero.” Many beginning writers tend to base their stories on the adventures or experiences of a hero. As writers become more mature in their craft, they may come to think of their central character as a “protagonist,” or perhaps a “main character.” And yet, through all of this, no consistent definitions of any of these terms have ever been agreed upon. Before we proceed then, it seems prudent to establish what Dramatica means by each of these concepts.

  • A Main Character is the player through whom the audience experiences the story first hand.
  • A Protagonist is the prime mover of the plot.
  • A Hero is a combination of both Main Character and Protagonist.

In other words, a hero is a blended character who does two jobs: move the plot forward and serve as a surrogate for the audience. When we consider all the characters other than a Protagonist who might serve as the audience’s position in a story, suddenly the concept of a hero becomes severely limited. It is not wrong, just limited. The value of separating the Main Character and Protagonist into two different characters can be seen in the motion picture, To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, the character, Atticus, (played by Gregory Peck) is clearly the Protagonist, yet the story is told through the experiences of Scout, his young daughter.

Later on, we will explore many other ways in which the Main Character can be employed in much less archetypal terms than as a hero. For now, the key point is that Dramatica identifies two different kinds of characters: those who represent an audience point of view, and those who fulfill a dramatic function.

Objective and Subjective Characters

The reason there are two kinds of characters goes back to the concept of the Story Mind. We have two principal views of that mind: the Objective view from the outside looking in, and the Subjective view from the inside looking out. In terms of the Story Mind, the Objective view is like looking at another person, watching his thought processes at work. For an audience experiencing a story, the Objective view is like watching a football game from the stands. All the characters are most easily identified by their functions on the field.

The Subjective view is as if the Story Mind were our own. From this perspective, only two characters are visible: Main and Obstacle. The Main and Obstacle Characters represent the inner conflict of the Story Mind. In fact, we might say a story is of two minds. In real life, we often play our own devil’s advocate, entertaining an alternative view as a means of arriving at the best decision. Similarly, the Story Mind’s alternative views are made tangible through the Main and Obstacle Characters. To the audience of a story, the Main Character experience is as if the audience were actually one of the players on the field. The Obstacle Character is the player who blocks the way.

To summarize then, characters come in two varieties: Objective and Subjective. Objective Characters represent dramatic functions; Subjective Characters represent points of view. When the Main Character point of view is attached to the Protagonist function, the resulting character is commonly thought of as a hero.

Looking Forward

In the next chapter we will begin an in-depth exploration of Objective Characters. Here we will meet the Protagonist, Antagonist, and several other archetypes. Next we will dissect each archetype to see what essential dramatic elements it contains. Finally, we will examine how those same elements can be combined in different, non-archetypal patterns to create more realistic and versatile complex characters.

Then we will turn our attention to the Subjective Characters: Main and Obstacle. We will examine how the audience point of view is shifted through the Main Character’s growth. We will also explore the forces that drive these two characters and forge the belief systems they possess.