"Cardboard characters!" writes a story analyst, putting the finishing touch in the comments section of his story report. "No tension!" writes another gatekeeper, check marking the dreaded word "pass" on her studio coverage form.
Lack of real, empathetic characters is the leading reason why agents and production executives pass on scripts. In today's competitive market, it is imperative to create the kind of full-bodied characters that mesmerize gatekeepers and bump your script up to the next level.
Happily, capturing the kind of well-developed characters that dazzle buyers is simply a matter of understanding the four basic personality types. Hippocrates, often called the father of modern medicine, divided humanity into four basic types based on a combination of an individual's physical attributes that hinted at the hidden "humours" (or predominant fluids) in their body, consisting of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Each fluid was associated with a specific personality characteristic.
Blood, for example, was associated with a passionate Sanguine personality. Someone with a Phlegmatic personality was sluggish and dull, while yellow bile represented a Choleric individual quick to anger. Black bile represented a Melancholic personality.
So, you might ask, what does any of this have to do with selling your screenplay or novel?
Ancient wisdom suggests that every human being has one of four predominant personality types. When you understand your character's specific personality type, you have instant insight into their positive and negative traits, as well as compatible personality types and the personality types that will bring conflict and angst into your work. Thus knowing your character's astrological sign or personality type can pave the way to richer, more vivid characters and a work filled with more tension, conflict, and emotion.
When you, as a screenwriter or novelist, assign a specific personality type to your characters, you can better:
* Understand how your character relates to and conflicts with other characters.
* Ensure you have a variety of personality types in your story.
* Understand each character's phobias and preferences.
* Plot a more realistic developmental pathway to your character's goals.
* Devise more credible dialogue as your character will speak in accordance to his/her type.
In my new book Creating Characters: Let Them Whisper Their Secrets I reveal an easy way to create intriguing character types with the More-Personality system(tm), which is loosely based on the ancient Enneagram in addition to personality typecasting theories developed by Hippocrates, Carl Jung, Myers-Briggs, and others.
The 4 basic styles include:
Mover - brash, "Type A" personality, result driven, fast moving & thinking.
Observer - factual, observant, often insecure, focused on detail, aloof.
Relater - encourages & motivates others, service-oriented, likes human contact.
Energizer - storyteller, confident, ambitious, likeable, charming, quick thinking.
Seen in his best light, the Mover personality makes the world go around. Like Energizers, they are often the main character of the story or film because of their drive and ability to focus on the bottom line.
The Mover protagonist is admired by those who know him, seeing him as a stern but benevolent taskmaster. Movers work hard for their seat of power and pride themselves on their accomplishments. Unlike the Energizer, the Mover does not believe in the concept of "Fake it until you make it" or spinning a career with smoke and mirrors.
In real and reel life, Movers are usually not immediately likeable. They don't try to charm or take pains to be pleasant. In fact, their blunt manner can put many people off. Yet when they are at their best, Movers are natural leaders to whom everyone looks to in a time of crisis. They can be excellent but stern mentors and can go out of their way to help others climb the ladder of success.
Movers crave control and power above all else. Unlike the Energizer, they have the focus and patience to methodically plot their course and can wait years, even decades, for their plan to come to fruition.
Keenly observant of the world around them, Movers take nothing at face value. Credibility is essential to the Mover, and everyone in his social or business circle must prove his worth.
Male Movers can be overbearing in personal relationships, as their desire to prove their superiority takes place both in the office and private residence. Their "macho" behavior can be problematic in marriages, and their desire to "conquer" can take form in adulterous affairs. The women who do earn a Male Mover's respect think as they do, and are Movers themselves.
In the world of literature, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Detective Poirot share the Observer personality style. The hallmark of an Observer is that they observe everything with extraordinary perceptiveness and insight, even if they don't "seem the type" - such as Lt. Columbo played by Peter Falk in the TV series Columbo.
In real life, this group includes virtually every profession, yet its members are characterized by their analytical nature.
In contrast to the Energizer, this personality style demands verification of all information. Before giving a talk, an Observer reads volumes of information and is careful to backup all sources.
As a group, they are highly independent and focused, often to the extent that they live in their own world. They are wary of strangers and new information until credibility can be established. When President Regan spoke of a new alliance with the Russians, he used the words: "Trust, but verify."
This is the credo of the Observer.
Well-educated Observers take pride in their keen intelligence, and excel in occupations involving law, science, mathematics, architecture, and of course, as detectives.
Observers usually play out a scenario in their mind before taking an action. Their worst fear is to be "proven" wrong or stand corrected.
Observers function at many different levels. At their best, they are top-notch scientists or attorneys, well versed in every aspect, every minute detail, of their profession. Many Observers can be found on Court TV, where as attorneys, they find the most obscure detail of the law that gets their client out of jail, free. Most detectives are Observers, as they take pleasure in analyzing and piecing together elements of a crime.
Albert Einstein was an Observer, as are Stephen King and director David Lynch.
Reasons for this include the Observers' intense desire to always be right, and their terror of being wrong or unable to convince others of their keen, superior intelligence. Anxious by nature, many Observers lose it completely when a world they've defined by their own logic suddenly seems illogical - and there's nothing they can do about it.
In an office environment, the Relater can usually be found in the Human Resources department. Unlike the Mover personality style - who demands "just the bullet points" of whatever you are going to say, the Relater wants you to sit down first, make yourself at home, have some tea, and nibble on a cookie.
As you may suspect, the Relater is a "people person."
This personality style enjoys being helpful and of service to everyone they meet, even strangers. They also like to be in agreement with others, and will go out of their way to go with the flow rather than insist on their own agenda. In old James Bond films, a perfect Relater would be the secretary, Miss Moneypenny, to James Bond.
Relaters are always looking out for the welfare of others, particularly if they are secretaries, wives, or mothers to the other party. They like to talk and gossip, and tend to touch people a lot.
People pleasers, they often resort to flattery to motivate other people to like them and want them around. Relaters set out to make themselves needed, so that other people will always want them around.
As mothers, they often suffocate in their desire to impose their love on their offspring, though their real desire is to be loved in return. Because they give so freely, they expect love in return, and often are devastated when it is not reciprocated.
In a family environment, Relaters position themselves to be at the center of things. They are the ones who keep in touch with distant family members and check in with closer relatives often to see what's up and how they can be of service. In return, they expect to be viewed as the cement that holds the family together.
A good fictional example of a Relater character is the female impersonator/mother played by Nathan Lane, co-starring with Robin Williams in The Birdcage. Though a bit over the top, Lane's drag queen character "Mrs. 'Mother' Coleman" dramatized the lengths a Relater would go to "sacrifice" oneself and prove loyalty to the family.
Relaters hold a similar position in an office environment, where they are the "go-to" person for all the latest gossip. They are nosey, asking the most personal of questions and violate personal space, sitting close to strangers and taking liberties of friendship.
Note that it will be difficult to make a Relater your protagonist, mostly because the very idea of rocking the boat is anathema to them. Though they enjoy gossip, they would be devastated to hear that their loose tongue resulted in someone losing their job or other tragedy. Stories are all about dramatic conflict. By their very nature, Relaters seek to avoid discord whenever possible.
The world of film and literature is rich with characters with the Energizer personality. Often, Energizers are the main characters of the story or film because they are exciting, attractive, and energetically in quest of a goal. More passive personality styles are drawn to them in fascination and because they secretly wish to have their energy, drive and passion.
Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivian Leigh in the film Gone with the Wind, is a good example of an Engerizer. So was the role played by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Real life examples of the Energizer style include a fair amount of actors as well as individuals who've achieved fame for their abilities and are noted for their engaging charm. This group includes athletes O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant who have faced violent criminal charges yet retain a core fan base.
The supposition that charm goes a long way in helping the Energizer personality style along in life is an important one to consider. This style can be used to build the kind of character who manipulates his way through life, trading on a heady combination of intelligence, wit, inherent likeability, natural ability, and instinctively knowing how best to play the hand he's been dealt.
Both luck and hard work are responsible for the Energizer's success in life. Of all the styles, the Energizer is the most likeable because he operates with a "win-win" mentality and feels a responsibility to dazzle and charm on command.
Energizers often have a smile, good word, and quick joke for everyone, but are often quite different in their private lives. If your character is an Energizer, you are well advised to consider that your character may have two distinct sides to his personality. For example, an Energizer is always "on" - whether trying to charm colleagues or his kids at home. Yet radiating all that energy is draining. Try to place them in scenes where you capture their reflective nature to give the character (and the audience) a break from all that excitement.
As a general rule, Energizers do not have other Energizers as friends or lovers. Such a relationship is competitive by its nature, as Energizers have a deep-rooted need to be the star. One can speculate that the reason that the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman marriage didn't work out because they were both Energizers.
Female Energizers are drawn to male Movers or a high-powered Observer, while male Energizers are drawn toward any of the remaining personality styles. While it's possible for a female Energizer to build a relationship with a male Relater, her main objective is power and status. She needs a mate who can help fuel and accomplish her dreams.