I came across this, Michael Hauge’s take on characterisation which he pins down as Identity and Essence. (Skim down the liked page to find it).

‘He says:

IDENTITY is the role that the protagonist adopts in life. It is donned as a form of armour, a protection against the vagaries of life, and is essentially the cicatrix that has grown over their deep life-wound.

ESSENCE is the protagonist’s potential. It is who your character is when stripped of their protective armour. It is who they are when they have finally overcome their inner battles, their resistance to their true calling, their destined relationship…etc.’

According to Hauge the character arc that your protagonist travels goes from living in their identity to living up to their essence. I guess you could say that they have to be true to themselves.

Often in stories a character starts out wanting one thing, only to discover halfway through that what they thought they wanted, they don’t really want, they want something else. My favourite stories are ones where the character grows.

Hauge’s Identity/Essence is a variation on what I tell my students. I tell them to see if they can encapsulate their character in two conflicting words. eg. Faithless-priest or Cynical-romantic.

Once you do this, it helps you identify the character’s inner conflict and gives you an insight into where you can take them during the course of the story.

I like plots that are character driven. It is because the protagonist is who they are, that they react the way they do. They aren’t an ‘everyman’, like the wooden man in the picture. Someone spoke up in class today, saying they didn’t like Frodo as a character in Lord of the Rings because they felt he was too bland.

I said, he was an ‘everyman’. He had a role to fulfil as the hero of the story. He was an ordinary person, doing extraordinary things. Maybe heroic fantasy is not a good genre to examine for characterisation, as the events tend to be larger than life.

Hauge’s concept of Identity and Essence are a bit like the Johari Window. The idea is that you are made up of four selves.

There is what you know about yourself and others know.
There is what you know about yourself but keep hidden from others.
There is what is known to others, but you are blind to (eg personality flaws)
And there is what is not known to others and not known to you.

OR …

There is what you (the writer) know about the character and the readers know about them.
There is what you the writer know about the character and what the character knows about themselves.
There is what you the writer know about the character and what the reader knows (but the character is blind to).
And there is what you know about the character and no one else knows (what you plan to do with the character).

All of this is interesting and might help trigger ways for writers to tackle creating characters, or exploring the characters they have created. Has it triggered any thoughts for you?


  1. >Very nice. I tend to create characters so easily I don't think about it, or their further growth. Now I'll be running back to check and see if I've missed something important.

  2. >Matapam, I like to know things about the characters that they don't know. So they have blind spots or misunderstand things, but I know them and I write the scene so the reader can see the subtext and realise that the character has either misunderstood or been blinded by their good heart or naivete and then the reader an worry for them.I believe in keeping the reader worried about the characters.

  3. >Oh, my. My characters don't tell me anything… I have to work it out from context while I'm writing it, and then try to connive around the things they don't realize are problems.Maybe I need to bully my characters more? Um. Considering the characters taking up residence in my skull, no. They'd bully me.

  4. >Kate, For me it happens while I am writing. But I will also wake up with the realisation that a particular character has overlooked something, or is hiding something that I didn't now about.Weird.

  5. >Rowena,The subconscious mind is an amazing thing, isn't it? Sometimes I think I wouldn't mind knowing what's going on in there, then I think about some of the things that emerge and decide no, I'm not that curious.

  6. >Rowena, I wish my characters would tell me more. Today's been one of those days when I've pouted and whined and eaten a lot of chocolate because of a rejection I know intellectually isn't as bad as I'm making it emotionally. In the middle of it, I've been ambushed by a character from a new story and the character is loud and strong and insistent…but refusing to tell me much of anything except the first page of the story. Hopefully tonight the subconscious will come into play and give me an insight into the character so I can begin the character development I need to do mentally so the character has depth on the page — at least I hope the character has depth on the page.

  7. >Subconscious to Conscious: Why do you keep nagging me with this weird delusion that I am a middle-aged housewife? I have enough troubles in the real world. I have Worlds, plural, to conquer and I keep wondering "Am I burning dinner, again?"Stop it.

  8. >Matapam,The number of times I've burnt the potatoes, scraped off the burned bits and mashed them …I heard about a piece of art which consisted of pots and pans, and quilts and kids shoes and it read:Why are there so few great female artists?

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