Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 14)

Situational Roles

Outside of personality and character, there are other roles that need to be filled within a story. I call these situational roles. In these roles, the surrounding characters cause and exacerbate the social situations in the story. It is the presence of these roles that keeps a story from being a linear stroll from beginning to end.

Here are some common roles that need to be filled.

The person who we identify with.

  • Information dumper.
  • Causer of tension.
  • Reliever of tension.
  • Misdirector (wrong, liar, miscommunication, etc.)
  • Generous ally.
  • Demanding ally.
  • Demanding neutral party.

These roles exist in the story to be the forces that shape the story, creating tensions and complexities where there may be none, or to relieve tensions or complexity when the story needs to move along.

These roles aren't exclusive. Many characters take on two or more of these roles.

For example, our protagonist’s mom tells our protagonist about her grandmother’s death and the necessary funeral logistics (information dumper), and also informs the main character that she needs to skip some important occasion (causer of tension). Later on, the protagonists’s brother tells her the wrong time for the funeral (misdirector), making it look like there won’t be any conflict between events. When she eventually finds out that she’s wrong and needs to resolve the situation, her brother (demanding ally) will run interference for a favor.

Don’t confuse these roles for personalities. Situation roles are about character influences on the story. Personalities are about how the character goes about her life. Even the shyest, meekest persona can be a demanding ally when that one important day rolls around and you owe her a zillion favors. The friend is still shy, but her situational role is that of a demanding ally. “I can’t go up and talk to him alone. You’ve got to help me!”