Players vs. Characters

What is a character? Like most dramatic concepts, it depends on who you ask. Some say characters are just ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Others say characters represent personality types. And then there are those who see characters as archetypes personifying human ideals and exemplifying quintessential human qualities.

As varied as these descriptions are, they all share one thing in common: They are looking at characters through the veil of storytelling. As before, when we strip that away, we begin to see the true structural nature of characters: past their personalities and into their underlying psychologies.

But before we delve into the structure of characters, let us take a moment consider their personalities, as that is what makes them intriguing, involving, charismatic and memorable.

In a story, anything can have a personality: a person, an animal, a tree, the sea, a star, even a virus. This stands to reason because in our every day lives we imbue inanimate objects with human qualities when we name our boats, call the wind Mariah, or refer to the Fatherland, Mother Russia, or Lady Liberty. In Dramatica, we call any entity that exhibits a personality a player.

Some players are just part of the background as with extras in the movies. Others are tools of convenience an author uses to drop information or solve a logistic conundrum in the plot. And still others are nothing more than window dressing – simple elements of entertainment that are purely storytelling devices.

But a player can also perform another dramatic task: it can function as part of the story argument. When it does, the player has become a character. To be a character, then, the player must (through its attitudes and/or actions) illustrate one of the ways the story’s central problem might be solved. And so, by this definition, not every personage populating a story is a character. Simply put: while all characters are players, not all players are characters.

As we shall fully explore later, the Main Character and Influence characters are special cases for these two players represent the best and worst of all the approaches that might be tried. (Which is which depends on the message the author wants to send – again, much more on this later.)

Now we shed a little more light on a statement from the beginning of the first chapter:

The elements of the story, therefore, must do double-duty. Characters, for example, must depict fully developed people in the storytelling so that the readers or audience might identify with them and thereby become personally involved in the entertainment and, perhaps, internalize the message.

Structurally, however, each character idealizes a different facet of the Story Mind’s conflicting motivations, made tangible, incarnate, so that we (the readers or audience) might directly observe the mechanisms of our own minds, see them from the outside looking in, and thereby gain a better understanding of how to solve similar problems in our minds and in own lives.

And so we see two distinct kinds of functions in each player when it also acts as a character: the fully developed aspect that makes it a real person and the small fragment of the overall story mind’s psychology that makes it part of the story’s argument.

Ultimately, as the story unfolds, all of these fragments will come together through the interactions of the characters like pieces of a puzzle to create the overall message of the story.