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This Month's Feature Article

“Writing the Short Story: How to Create a Dynamic Character Profile”

by Diana J Heath

Story world characters deserve our full attention as they are the active agents who drive a story's plot forward. Whatever their role in a narrative, characters give us a front row seat for all the action. They are the eyes and ears of the story-world, and it is through their narration that we experience the story world. We love characters, whether we are reading about them in a book or watching them on television or in a film.

The narrative function of characters

Most stories are usually centred around the hero, so the secondary characters such as the villain, the princess and the helper, function as an extension of the hero's universe. The villain opposes the hero. The princess needs rescuing. The helper provides much-needed help and support for the hero.

A brief overview of the history of archetypal characters and their narrative functions

In any kind of story, the narrative consists of seven archetypal characters as outlined by the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp in his extensive study of Russian folk and fairy tales.

Here are Propp's conclusions:

1. Functions of characters serve as stable, constant elements in a tale, independent of how and by whom they are fulfilled. They constitute the fundamental components of a tale.

2. The number of functions known to the fairy tale is limited.

3. The sequence of functions is always identical.

4. All fairy tales are of one type in regard to their structure. * The hero accepts a call to go on a quest, he experiences conflict from a villain. The hero receives some magical help along his journey, meets some helpers who join his quest, and he encounters a princess who needs rescuing.

* Propp in Turner 1988, p. 69.

Here are the seven archetypes as identified by Propp:

Analysing archetypal characters

In order to analyse the above archetypal characters, I am going to use the entertainment medium of film-making to predominately draw my examples from. Of course there are many great examples in literature, but I think film-making has a greater potential for global story saturation. And most of us are familiar with film references anyway. To identify Propp's archetypal characters in a modern setting, I am going to use the main cast from the Star Wars saga.

The hero - Luke Skywalker

The false hero - Darth Vader

The donor - Obiwan Kenobi

The helper/s - Han Solo and Chewbacca/C3PO

The princess - Princess Leia

The dispatcher - R2D2

The villain - Darth Vader

To demonstrate how to create a dynamic character profile, I am going to pick the false hero, and the princess.

From the Star Wars franchise we have seen the development of the Darth Vader character, from the conflicted and misguided 'false hero' Anakin Skywalker, to his evolution as the villain. As a little boy, he was innocent and sweet, and had a tragic life, and we felt for him, and we looked forward to his bright future as a light sabre extraordinaire - the Jedi Knight. But alas, we were very much mistaken, or at least some of us tried to be shocked and dismayed at Anakin's descent into darkness, after the considerable gap between the original and more recent Star Wars films. But Anakin was the false hero and it was his son, Luke, who would be the real hero…



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