Complex Characters

I promised a discussion on complex characters and here it is.  Grab your Zoloft and Ambien ’cause it’s about ta get real.  Yay ya!

Cliche’s aside, there is something true about this statement.  You see, last time I talked about archetypal characters.  Archetypal characters can perform multiple functions, but they are complimentary.  Like protagonist/guardian aka, The Hero.  Or Antagonist/Impact character aka, The Villain.  These are classic archetypal characters and can be painfully annoying.  You see, these characters never have motivations that are at odds to each other, they don’t have internal conflict.

Why do I say “it’s about ta get real”?  Classic archetypal characters can seem completely inhuman.  Not real.  Anybody read comic books?  Remember the classic Superman?  Cheeseball superhero.  So totally archetypal that he was downright boring.

And so we introduce Complex Characters.  Complex characters fill conflicting dramatic roles.  By using complex characters we are able to introduce internal conflict that fills those ever-important dramatic roles that archetypal characters just can’t do.

I use complex characters in The Seraphim Protocol because external conflict is only a mirror of the internal conflict experienced by the characters.  For example:

Throughout the story, Jacob usually fills the roles of protagonist and sidekick.  However, when he sees a news report wherein a religious leader refers to Draghixa as an animal, he suddenly becomes the impact character.  The only person who has ever read my book said, “That was really out of character!”

Draghixa, who normally fills the roles of impact character and skeptic suddenly slides into the sidekick role when they discover the good doctor has had her son for some time.  Jacob slides into the skeptic role, he’s ready to give up, so she jumps to the opposing role.

Other than dramatic roles, what internally makes my characters at odds with themselves like this?  Jacob is accused of being a cheeseball superhero and normally acts just that way.  (Honestly, a protagonist who normally fills the role of sidekick?  Think Dora the Explorer . . . WE CAN DO IT!)  So why does suddenly decide to the cut the tongue out of a clergyman or give up trying to find Draghixa’s son?  He’s in love with Draghixa (enter awwww . . . here), but . . . ah, I’m not going to tell the rest, let’s just say his attachment to her goes faaar deeper and he would be less confused if he could just remember why.  So when she’s threatened, he can’t help but react violently, even if the threat is verbal.  Also, he wants to give up because he has failed her, both during the novel and . . . lets just say, he’s failed her horribly.

Why does Draghixa jump roles?  She is a heavily conflicted character.  She wants nothing more to die, she wants her pain, both mental and physical, to finally end.  BUT, she’s scared of dying for reasons explained in the book.  Double up her wanting her son back and Jacob instilling hope in her mind that one day she’ll be able to live in a home with her son and husband.  She wants to be able to have the life normal humans get to have.  But wait . . . that conflicts with her desire to end her life doesn’t it?  Yup.  Which desire wins out?  Which dramatic function wins out?  I ain’t tellin’!

So that’s complex characters in a nutshell.  Next time I’ll be discussing the story goal.


About Webgoji

I am a member of the Kansas Writers Association and Wichita Writers Guild. I have successfully completed National Novel Writing Month and have completed 3 different novels. My first novel "The Fay Dragon Chronicles" unfortunately wasn't published, but I am currently trying to get my second book "The Seraphim Protocol" published. View all posts by Webgoji

3 responses to “Complex Characters

  • H.B. Berlow

    Outside of the fantasy of Seraphim Protocol, I believe this holds true for “contemporary” fiction. The “hero” could be a cop who has a deeply troubling personal life and often doesn’t act heroic (think Al Pacino in “Heat”). The protagonist may use strange methods from his arsenal of evil to act in as noble fashion as possible (think Anthony Hopkins from “Hannibal”). The jumping back and forth, so to speak, of complex characters does a great deal to flesh out their humanity.

    • webgoji

      Very well said and very true H.B. Dramatica is not limited to just fantasy or any other genre and the Dramatica methods of dealing with complex character design can be used in anything. And yes, the jumping back and forth does make complex characters more human and than the often cheeseball Archetypal characters.

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