Monday, February 20, 2012

Ontology: Characters (Part 1)

The second category of existent is the characters (human or otherwise), which are sentient beings with the ability to feel, perceive, or to have subjective experiences. Characters have a number of properties that help define them. These include:
  • Physical characteristics: The physical characteristics are what the character looks like. The physical characteristics are a starting point for developing characters, but don’t fully describe a character.
  • Psychological characteristics: The character’s feelings, beliefs, self-image, self-doubts, hunches, intuitions, and “millions of other mysterious and often ill-defined and contradictory forces that work within him” compose the psychological characteristics of the character. They make up the internal life that the character leads (Glassner, 2004).
  • Behavioral characteristics: The character’s behavioral characteristics are the visible behavior. When contrasted with the character’s psychological characteristics, they can tell a lot about that character and make the story much richer.
  • Social characteristics: The character’s social characteristics determine the interpersonal and social interactions (e.g. how he/she relates to other characters individually and in general).
  • Motivations: The character’s motivations are driven by the needs identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy (Maslow, Frager, & Fadiman, 1987):
    • Physiological needs – the most basic needs for human survival, without which the human body cannot function (e.g. air, water, food, sleep, sex, etc.).
    • Safety needs – include personal security from physical threats, health and well-being, and financial security (e.g. security of body, employment, family, property, resources, etc.).
    • Love and belonging needs – love, acceptance, and belonging with family, intimate partners, friends, and larger social groups (e.g. family, sexual and non-sexual intimacy, friends, etc.)
    • Esteem needs –lower level esteem needs are met by having the respect of others, status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The higher level esteem needs are the need for self-respect, strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom.
    • Self-actualization needs – pertain to achieving one’s full potential and the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming (e.g. morality, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance of facts, lack of prejudice, etc.)
    • Self-transcendence – going beyond a prior form or state of oneself (e.g. making spiritual connections) (Frankl, 2006, p. 111).
  • Values: A character’s values are the important ideas, beliefs or understandings that character holds and uses as a guide for his or her behavior (Scerenko, 1997). These values may change as the character progresses through the story. (See Appendix G for a list of values that can be applied to characters.)
  • Desires: The character’s desires are what the character cares about or wants. These desires can drive the character to certain actions, including abandoning the character’s own values. Desires may be conscious or unconscious and could conflict, resulting in a more complex character. Throughout the course of the story the character will take action to fulfill those desires.
  • Fears: The character’s fears are those things he or she is most afraid of. How the character deals with those fears can impact specific plot points by putting in doubt the character’s response to specific situations. Fears can be linked to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Concept map of character properties

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