Character: Definition

Published on Sunday, July 06, 2008 in ,

CharacterOnce you've decided to pursue a performing character, you're faced with the even bigger question of where to begin.

The traditional advice is to “be yourself.” As far as preventing performers from copying each other, that's great advice, but beyond that, the advice is far too simplified.

The best place to start is by examining where you are presently. What types of routines do you like to perform? Look at those routines from your audience's point of view, and ask yourself what those routines suggest about the person performing them. As a group, do they suggest their performer is funny? Intelligent? Psychic? Suave? Creative? Quick-Thinking? As you do this, you'll probably find that some conflicting messages are being sent by your routines. If you have to be the funny man at one point, then the deep-thinking man of mystery shortly afterwards, you'll have to make a decision about which direction you really want to take.

It's very important to remember that your character is not you. It can range anywhere from a minor extension of you (such as Ricky Jay's scholarly persona), or it may be a complete caricature (such as Rudy Coby's otherworldly scientist persona). In Richard Tenace's article, The Base Character, he brings up some excellent basic questions that you should know about your character. The more detail you know about your character, the better.

As a matter of fact, questions are a great way to develop your character. You'll note from my Questions For Better Magic, especially the questions on character, that I'm a big supporter of asking better questions to get better answers. John B. Pyka, who usually charges much more to consult on theatrical character development, has generously shared some excellent character development questions at no charge! I find the killer/victim/witness question especially interesting, as that one single question will do more to bring focus to your act than any other I've seen.

Screenwriting resources, such as iFV's Character Questionnaire , can also provide some very thorough food for thought. I've previously mentioned Dramatica and Story Fanatic as great resources, too. While Dramatica does focus on larger, more fully developed stories, I've found their 12 essential questions a very useful tool. Story Fanatic's Thinking of Your Audience First post is very helpful in figuring out what effect the various decisions can have on your audience.

One fun way to develop your character is to put him or her through those internet personality tests you see so frequently. Regardless of their true psychological value, the test results can often prove valuable as inspiration. If such a quiz describes your character as having a trait which you think would make them less effective, you're free to discard it! Two of my favorite quizzes for this purpose are PersonalDNA, because of the rich descriptions in the results, and the Jung/Meyers-Briggs Personality tests (also known as the Meyer-Briggs Typology Index, or MBTI), due to the large amount of online resources that can help take a better look at your results. Once you know your MBTI type, you can do more research at sites like TypeLogic, Socionics, and Dave Nevins can provide plenty of detail to inspire you. One interesting source of inspiration is to look at other fictional characters with the same MBTI type as yours.

Keep in mind that creating a character is not a one-time event. Rudy Coby once noted that the secret to an effective performing character, once you began the process, was summed up in two ideas, developing your character, and getting as much time in front of an audience as possible to constantly determine the effectiveness of the character in order to refine it. This is one of those journeys where the journey itself is the treasure you seek.

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