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).
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.
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?