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sunandshadow

theme-based character design

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I've mentioned before that if you figure out the theme of your story you can use this to figure out what kinds of characters you will need to portray your story. I presented some basic examples with black, white, and gray mages, but now I want to present a more realistic and complex example using the surreal plant people story I'm working on as a case study. First we want to define the possible character traits implied by the theme. In this case the themes are being stuck as an adolescent unable to transition to adulthood, and pureblood prejudice against hybrids. The specific plot is that a stuck pureblood becomes an adult by becoming a hybrid. So we have the following possibilities: new non-stuck adolescent, stuck adolescent, adolescent in the process of becoming an adult, and adult; pureblood of race A, pureblood of race B, hybrid. My story actually has several races, but looking at 2 contrasting ones in detail should be sufficient to explore the theme. So, now we make a little chart (a Punnett square) with one set of traits along the top and one set along the side, and fill in the chart will all their possible combinations. So we get: --------------- pureblood a -- hybrid ------------- pureblood b adolescent --- adolescent a - adolescent hybrid - adolescent b stuck --------- stuck a ------- stuck hybrid ------ stuck b transitioning - trans a ------- trans hybrid ------- trans b adult --------- adult a ------- adult hybrid ------- adult b Now we have to decide which of these are important and which aren't. The main character takes up three slots at different points in the story: he begins as a stuck pureblood a, becomes a transitioning hybrid, then an adult hybrid. In order to become a hybrid he must come into contact with another hybrid or a pureblood b. So the other 3 types of pureblood a (stuck, trans, and adult) are not directly relevant to the plot, and thus may be useful as minor characters but are not needed as major characters. --------------- pureblood a --- hybrid ------------- pureblood b adolescent --- xxxxxxxxxxxx - adolescent hybrid - adolescent b stuck --------- stuck a ------- stuck hybrid ------- stuck b transitioning - xxxxxxx ------- trans hybrid ------ trans b adult --------- xxxxxxx ------- adult hybrid ------ adult b Now what? Well, transitioning is treated as a process which either happens or doesn't. In a differently-focused story the author might want to study people who go through transition fearfully vs. people who go through transition confidently, or transitions which go normally vs. transitions which go wrong, but in this particular story I'm not interested in that. So, I'm going to cross out any transitioning characters which I'm not already using. --------------- pureblood a --- hybrid ------------- pureblood b adolescent --- xxxxxxxxxxxx - adolescent hybrid - adolescent b stuck --------- stuck a ------- stuck hybrid ------- stuck b transitioning - xxxxxxx ------- trans hybrid ------ xxxxxxx adult --------- xxxxxxx ------- adult hybrid ------ adult b Now, since the main character is going to become an adult hybrid, and since I want this to be a scary and mysterious outcome, I want to avoid showing any other adult hybrids. But I need to have an adult in there somewhere to show why it's desireable and important to become an adult, and how adults have their own different problems. So, since I don't want an adult hybrid besides the main character, and since adult a is already crossed off, I'll take an adult b. I'll mark that character in italics to differentiate it from the main character. --------------- pureblood a --- hybrid ------------- pureblood b adolescent --- xxxxxxxxxxxx - adolescent hybrid - adolescent b stuck --------- stuck a ------- stuck hybrid ------- stuck b transitioning - xxxxxxx ------- trans hybrid ------ xxxxxxx adult --------- xxxxxxx ------- adult hybrid ------ adult b Now there are only 4 possibilities left: adolescent hybrid, adolescent b, stuck hybrid, and stuck b. I already have one pureblood b character, would another one serve any purpose? Well, it depends on the kind of story I want to tell. I could tell a story about how a stuck pureblood a and a stuck pureblood b are each half of the equation, and combining them results in two hybrid adults. Or, I could tell a story about how one character is considering becoming a hybrid, but a character who is already a hybrid wishes they could be a pureblood. I could emphasize that just being a hybrid isn't the solution because hybrids can get stuck as adolescents too, or show that a character's fear of his own 'bad' hybridism is keeping him stuck as an adolescent in a parallel way to the main character's social pressure to maintain his 'good' purebloodedness is keeping him stuck as an adolescent. So I could do something interesting with a stuck hybrid or a stuck pureblood, but there doesn't seem to be any important use for either kind of unstuck adolescent, so I'll cross those off. --------------- pureblood a --- hybrid ------------- pureblood b adolescent --- xxxxxxxxxxxx - xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx - xxxxxxxxxxxx stuck --------- stuck a ------- stuck hybrid ------- stuck b transitioning - xxxxxxx ------- trans hybrid ------ xxxxxxx adult --------- xxxxxxx ------- adult hybrid ------ adult b Now I'm done! I take my main character, my definitely-wanted adult b and my possibly useful stuck hybrid and stuck b, and I move on to brainstorming what each of them might be like as a character: personality, social roles, etc. [smile] [Edited by - sunandshadow on June 28, 2006 12:49:32 AM]

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