Nine Character Types

Human beings perceive reality in sets of three.   When something looks or feels “real” we say it has three-dimensions.  For example:  Every painting is composed of a background, middle ground and foreground.  The picture is viewed as a whole and is instantly judged as to how all three visual elements work together.  Likewise:  Every piece of music is composed of harmony, melody and rhythm. Each song is heard as a whole and is instantly judged as to how all three  compositional elements work together.  All three layers need to be present to create the richest viewing or listening experience.
A fictional character’s personality or “emotional depth of field” is composed of psychological sets of three.   The Nine Character Types is a short cut to creating rich complex characters with all three dimensions.
Audiences instinctively know when a character “feels false.” When the first see a character onscreen they make instantaneous judgments about how that particular kind of person would respond to any given situation.  A character must respond to any situation in the screenplay in a manner consistent with the audience’s intuitive assessment of the character’s personality or the character doesn’t “feel real.”  The Nine Character Types  help writers create and build on the audience’s immediate perceptions to deliver an authentic and satisfying long-term viewing experience.
Nailing that audience perception is critical in a feature film or television show. Today’s market and short viewer attention spans give storytellers very little time for the slow trial and error needed to gradually “find” a character.  The business is too fast-moving and too competitive.  A character must be believable from the start and remain believable throughout the film or television program.

hand-drawing-etbscreenwritingWhat Feels Real

Human beings perceive reality in sets of three.   When something looks or feels “real” we say it has three-dimensions.  For example:  Every painting is composed of a background, middle ground and foreground.  The picture is viewed as a whole and is instantly judged as to how all three visual elements work together.  Likewise:  Every piece of music is composed of harmony, melody and rhythm. Each song is heard as a whole and is instantly judged as to how all three compositional elements work together.  All three layers need to be present to create the richest viewing or listening experience.

emotions-etbscreenwritingEmotional Depth of Field

A fictional character’s personality or “emotional depth of field” is composed of a psychological set of three. These are:  the character’s Immediate Tactics,  Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach.  The audience views the character as a whole and instantly judges how all three elements work together. Each layer needs to be present to create a rich complex three-dimensional character that “feels real.”  Here’s a closer look at at the three elements:

Immediate Tactics

A character’s Immediate Tactics are how a character viscerally reacts to an unexpected challenge, opportunity or threat.  This is a character’s short-term or immediate response in a surprising situation or when encountering an unforeseen obstacle or problem.  Immediate Tactics are where the character goes first emotionally.  These tactics are a character’s automatic responses when startled or caught off-guard.

Long-term Orientation

A character’s Long-Term Orientation is the characters ordinary actions based on his or her belief system and personal values. This orientation is defines what a character does based on how he or she  views the world, believes the world works, values most or defines life, love and his or her role or place in the world.  It is how the character acts overall based on his or her accumulated beliefs, assumptions and ideas.

Strategic Approach

A character’s Strategic Approach is how a character meets an opportunity, challenge or threat overall.  This is how a character takes charge or commands others to achieve a goal over the long-term.  Strategy is the art of obtaining a larger, grander or overarching objective.  It is how the character tackles obstacles and works toward getting what he or she most fervently desires.

2 Comments

  1. Reply Bastiaan Van der Kooi 28th October 2016

    Great stuff 🙂

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