Who Are The Actors In The Series The Old Man Character Development Part II

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Character Development Part II

CHARACTER FUNCTIONS

Each character serves a function within the story and this function provides clues about how to develop and portray the various roles. The function will relate to the telling of the story and what purpose each character fulfills. Some characters are there to give color, texture, and background to the tale, to make the story more credible. Others may promote the theme, viewpoint, and arguments of the author.

For the most part, the minor and major characters’ function revolves around the actions of the protagonist, the person or persons for whom the audience is rooting. Some characters will assist or help the protagonist towards his goal while others will hinder this progress. It is also possible for some characters to do both, to at times be a hindrance and, at other times, aid the protagonist. There is a third group that is neutral or serves some other story function.

The following tabulations categorize the most frequently found functions and offer insights into exploring others not listed here.

Assisting The Protagonist.

The protagonist, his strengths, knowledge, skills, obsessions, etc.

Catalyst, the one setting story in motion, providing the clue, forcing a transformation

Friend, lover, confidant, relative, sidekick, the one to whom the protagonist reveals dimensions of his character.

Helpers, assistants, servants, co-workers, co-cohorts, specialists, craftsmen, people doing their jobs thereby making the protagonist journey toward his goal easier.

Mentor, wise old man, good mother, teacher, the givers of wisdom and knowledge

The victim, the prize, the objective or goal. The person to be saved, won, or attained.

The antagonist, his weaknesses, flaws, self-doubts, misconceptions, etc.

Traitors in the opposition’s camp, ambitious underlings, embittered subordinates.

Hindering The Protagonist.

The protagonist himself, his self-doubts, flaws, imperfections, obsessions, lacks strength, skills and knowledge.

The antagonist, his strengths, knowledge, skills, obsessions, and goals

The antagonist’s subordinates, helpers, assistants, or people doing their jobs in such a way that hinders the progress of the protagonist.

The victim, prize, or goal. Ones which have phobias, selfish motives, attitudes, misconceptions, etc., which hinder rescue or attainment.

People with agendas or traits, which test or tempt the protagonist and thus better define his character and importance.

Traitors in the protagonist camp selling out for personal gain

Tricksters, mischievous pranksters, con artist indiscriminately applying their trade

Neutral characters or those serving other story functions.

Judge, arbitrator, God(s), deciders of fate.

Sacrificial pawns, pawns

To promote theme, viewpoint, arguments of writer

To provide color, texture, background, atmosphere, credibility to story

The prophet, visionary, voice of reason, philosopher

Red Herring, probable suspects

Character providing comic relief, tension

Narrator

The character’s function should not be confused with the character’s objective. Let’s say a taxi driver is rushing the protagonist to the airport to catch a flight. The driver is not thinking, I’m helping the hero. He may be unaware of the hero’s mission. Instead, he’s hurrying because he wants a big tip… or he likes the thrill of driving fast.

Lets’ say at the airport, the protagonist almost misses his departure because the ticket agent is so meticulous in doing her job. She didn’t intend to hinder the hero. Her objective is to follow prescribe procedures in processing the ticket. Her function in the story, however, might be to increase the tension, test the protagonist’s fortitude, or provide comic relief.

Knowing or selecting a function opens up more opportunities for creating vivid and credible characters, characters that become an integral part of the story. For instance, in portraying the taxi driver, if his function is to assist the protagonist and his self-image is that of an Indy racecar driver, you have a fascinating character. If the ticket agent’s function is hindrance and comic relief and she is a robotic perfectionist, her choices improve the thrust of the story. The function gives you clues as to how the character can be developed and which facets of the performance will make the story work better.

The function of the character is found by researching the script, its dialogue, action directives, and the direction of the story. The function is implied mainly through the protagonist’s ease or difficulty in reaching his goal. Knowing the story makes the identity of the function easier. If it is not clear, then one should defer to director for guidance.

STORY EVOLVING FROM CHARACTERS

One must understand that, from the audience point of view, the story evolves from the characters and their actions. The audience does not see the illusionary process, the plotting, staging, the actors and their preparation. The characters move the story forward giving it dimension, new directions, and make it compelling. They influence the story because of who they are and what they stand for.

In a good script, the story flows out of the characters and their actions. This is because the characters fulfill certain key story principles. For the actor, maintaining these principles is vital to creating credible characters.

1. There must be opposing wishes.

2. These wishes must be in conflict.

3. The conflict must force a rising action, a call to action.

4. The conflict must be important enough so that the audience will care about its way of resolution.

5. The characters, by virtue of their own personalities, must be unable to avoid conflict.

You can see that principle number 5 says a great deal about constructing your characters. If the conflict could be avoided, there would be no story. Thus, the characters, by the very nature of their personality, their character traits, have no choice but to confront the conflict.

Therefore, in creating and formulating your characters, they must be constructed and portrayed so that they make the story happen. Of all the roles, this applies most to the main characters, particularly the protagonist and antagonist. Playing either of these roles requires more delineation and special emphasis in portrayal.

The protagonist is the character around whom the action revolves and the person for which the audience is rooting. Normally, it is a sympathetic character in heightened jeopardy earnestly struggling to reach a worthy goal against formidable opposition. The protagonist stands out from the rest of the characters because his quest generates empathy, reflection, and identification. His struggles, his goals, and his persona bring the audience into a deeper relationship with their own lives for the protagonist stands for things the audience values and admires.

Likewise, because his wants and feelings have greater intensity and greater urgency than those of the supporting characters, the importance of the protagonist stands out from the rest. In addition, the protagonist has a deep inner drive to succeed. And what drives him, what forces him into action is the distinctive traits, qualities, attributes, moral strengths, fortitude, in essence, the character of the man.

With the mythic protagonist, the hero figure, the characterization is modified. It needs to have enough dimensionality to seem like human beings, yet have a sense of mystery and a degree of ambiguity to represent not just a person, but also a certain idea. The mythic hero must be both human and symbolic.

Such characters usually have something mysterious or unresolved from the past. For instance, a character is in a terrible conflict, more so because previously, he faced a similar situation with disastrous results. This memory places the protagonist in maximum conflict, not only with the obstacles presented by the antagonist, but also with that of his own inadequacies, his self-doubts, guilt, etc., from this earlier experience.

Such references to the past are the unknowns, the unspoken, the implied actions which pulls the audience deeper into the story and forces them to create parts of the character themselves, the bigger-than-life elements, the facets which make heroes. The actor creates this mystery by leaving gaps and letting the audience fill in the blanks, creating their own interpretation. In this way, a likeable character is elevated to a higher status as the audience completes the idea initiated by the actor.

It is also possible to reveal the past in such a way that touches on our understanding about what motivates and obsesses the hero. This back-story, either implied or revealed, provides the answers why the protagonist acts as he does.

Heroes have been defined as warriors, conquerors, competitors, as men of action. However, they can also be characters who stand for the affirmations of life. For overcoming abuse, for self-esteem, for realizing one’s potential, for reaching out to others, for recognizing the humanity of those unlike us, for the promotion of growth and transformation. These are all worthy goals with wide audience acceptance.

Much is demanded of heroes and somehow, they are able to meet the challenge. The adversities they face create difficult choices and in these crises, we see the real character emerge. For the moments of decision, weighing the consequences, these are the moments when character is best revealed.

Great heroes are like human beings, they are like us: they have weak points in addition to their strengths. The audience appreciates a character in spite of and sometimes because of their flaws. Moreover, without flaws or imperfections, the character will not seem believable. Such flaws have the most impact when they support a key story point.

One of the more endearing qualities of the hero is the ability to see reality, to see the truth, and as a result change. This transformation, where the person becomes stronger or wiser, etc., is a key factor in the construction of the character. For the transformation to be fulfilling, the change must be supported by credible traits, character traits that validate the self-awareness, the realization, and the motivation behind the change.

The same understanding applies to creating a dimensional antagonist. It is necessary to ask why they act the way they do. Is it because of being victimized earlier in their lives or are their motives self-serving? Being victimized, the emphasis is usually placed on a difficult and unstable family life, often poverty and abuse, repression of the person’s feelings and a solitary, non-relational life-style.

Self-serving antagonist, especially the villain, justify their actions thinking they are doing it for a greater good. They usually have a strong defense mechanism and are unaware of the unconscious forces driving them.

By definition, the villain is the evil character opposing the protagonist. The antagonist may not be a villain, an evil character. However, the villain is always the antagonist. Evil opposes good. It oppresses, restricts, puts down, defies, and puts limits on others. Whatever the form of violence or abuse, the villain has the same function in the story: to work against the good.

Nevertheless, the villain thinks his actions justify a greater good and as an actor, you have to search out what that is considered to be. And although such motivation might have positive aspects to it, it takes on a negative form as the villain’s repressive value system is imposed on others.

Villains, as a rule, are unaware of the wrong they do. They deny their actions and motivations, a form of denial that is found in compulsive behaviors, addiction, and abuse. Villains of any type suffer from a kind of narcissism, an inability to see, and respect the reality of others. It’s an inability to recognize the humanity of other people, or to affirm their right to be who they are.

One must recognize that nobody is all bad and should therefore, round out the character showing good points, complex psychology, and emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, contempt, and/or envy. As I mentioned before, not all antagonists are villains. But the role of the villain always connotes evil.

Villains are sometimes played behind a mask of other identities. Such a character can use his powers unfairly to corrupt, undermine, and betray his victims. He might also be the unseen menace, the cunning, diabolical agent, the mastermind rising up from the underworld. Yet with such characters, before they are unmasked as villains, something is out of proportion, some foreshadowing of their true nature, their evil side.

In playing the villain, we must look for that element of the terror that can touch the audience. What is it about the villain that will terrify them? Maybe it’s something in the eyes, or it might be a condoning smile. Whatever it is, it should create a propensity for horror and violence.

Article “Character Development Part III.” goes on to cover personality or temperament types, abnormal tendencies, learning and social disabilities, plus character relationships.

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