CREATING A CHARACTER
As the race begins, the Hare quickly runs ahead of the Tortoise. But, over confident, the Hare decides to sit and rest, and soon falls asleep.
When the Hare awakes from his nap, he discovers that the steady paced and determined Tortoise has gone ahead and won the race.
In general, fables point to human truths, customs, and weaknesses and teaches a common sense lesson or moral. These stories have been around since about 620-564 BCE when the legendary Aesop lived in Ancient Greece.
Today readers of all ages still love these narratives that humanize animals, large and small! So let's take a closer look and try to create our own fables and stories!
What is your favorite Aesop's Fable? Why do you like this story?
The Journey: Desires, Hopes, and Struggles
Unique and lovable characters are one of the most appealing factors in animal fables and stories.
The characters might be furry, have paws and tails, or even webbed feet, but we identify with their desires, hopes, and struggles.
Winnie-the-Pooh made the jump from page to script when he first appeared in 1966 on The Walt Disney Company's animated featurette: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.
Take a look at Pooh's Balloon mini-story that takes on the structure of a fable with a moral:
Do you think 'Pooh's Balloon' is trying to transmit a lesson or moral as a classical animal fable? If yes, what would you say is the "lesson" we should learn from Pooh's plan to steal the bees' honey.
In the 21st century we continue to happily follow many other animal characters into fantastical worlds such as Judy Hopps!
Have you watched Zootopia (2016)? It was a run away success!
But why was it so successful? Let's take a look...
Timely Social Message
It's a modern animal fable that takes on timely social issues as:
- Women and Men in the work place.
- Women's roles in patriarchal societies.
Take a look at the this video, and think about what social issues are being explored in the sloth scene:
What social issues do you think the 'Zootopia' sloth scene explores? Please explain.
Check out these articles on Zootopia's timely messages:
Briefly comment on 1 of the 2 articles above about the film 'Zootopia'.
HEROES HAVE EMOTIONAL SCARS and CHARACTER FLAWS
A defining factor for Heroes are their EMOTIONAL SCARS that are often accompanied by real physical scars received in childhood.
Also, Heroes that we identify with have CHARACTER FLAWS as Judy Hopps in Zootopia.
Judy is prejudiced against predators because as a child-bunny she is bullied and scarred, physically and emotionally, by a young fox named Gideon.
Judy expresses her prejudice when she gives a speech in front of a crowd and cameras and talks about the predators' "biological component" and declares: "these predators may be reverting back to their primitive, savage way."
In real life, rabbits fear predators such as cats and foxes, but in the world presented in the film Zootopia, all animals live peacefully and in harmony together.
In spite of her character flaw, Judy is a complex and compelling heroine because she is:
- Pro-active as she faces problems and obstacles.
- Self-sacrificing putting the needs of others before her own needs.
- A character who chases her dream and will act alone if needed to achieve her dream.
Judy is a feminist who is passionate about her chosen profession and is willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve her dream of .becoming the first rabbit on the police force of the city of Zootopia.
Even in a modern animal fable, like Zootopia, the essence of the Hero/Heroine is the sacrifice he/she makes for the Quest.
For more on Judy Hopps as a feminist hero, take a look at: Burn your princess dress: Disney's new heroine is a badass feminist rabbit.
What other popular fictional character in a story, novel or film have you noticed has an outer/inner scar? What is their scar?
STAR WARS UNIVERSE: INTERGALACTIC FABLES
HEROES ARE SELF-SACRIFICING
For the Quest, Heroes often lose their families and have to make it through life alone. This loss is a source of emotional pain.
Michael Cavna writes about Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso:
"She has a certain steeliness that emanates from those light eyes and forceful physicality. She plays the character like a quick-thinking caged animal."
Read the article above: Would you agree that Jyn Erso is the "greatest Star Wars heroine yet"? What is your favorite Star Wars universe character?Do they have any physical or emotional "scars"?
Characters Lead the Writer into Stories
The True Test
A character's true persona is revealed and tested by how a character responds to conflict, by what they say and do!
THINK ABOUT: How did each Little Pig show their true persona when the wolf arrived at their door?
You can read several versions of the three little pigs story here.
With one or two adjetives, how would you describe each little piggy?
The Wolf Test
How would you respond to a wild, hungry wolf outside your door?
Would you scream or laugh?
Would you speak to the wolf?
Would you call the police?
Would you run out the back door?
Or get a weapon?
Note on Character Traits
Character traits can be described as good or bad.
But it is only in specific situations that we truly see if a trait is beneficial or a set back to a character. It is in a difficult situation that we "show our true colors."
Character traits will be observed through responses to a situation but also through actions or even how a person acts around you or others. There are many words you can use to describe character traits. Check out this List of Character Traits.
How would you respond to a wild, hungry wolf or other "life and death situation" outside your door?
ARCHETYPES, QUESTS and HEROIC JOURNEYS
Archetypes identified by anthropologists and other researchers in narrative techniques are:
- Mentor (Good/Wise or Bad)
- Threshold Guardian
- Herald (Messenger)
- Trickster (Chaos)
But there are other Archetypes, such as:
- Dog (faithful/man’s best friend)
- Fox (smart)
- Mule (stubborn)
- Wolf (hunter)
- Good/Sacrificing Father/Mother
- Evil Step-Mother
- Magical Godmother
- Puer Aeternus (Eternal Boy: Peter Pan)
- Good/Bad Cop
In a story, a character may have a variety of functions and can appear as several Archetypes. It all depends on what is happening and needs of the Hero/Heroine. Often circumstances are against the Heroes from the moment they are born and they are considered "underdogs."
All great adventures, Quests or Heroic Journeys, will have a “happy” or "emotionally satisfying" ending. Even if the Hero/Heroine dies, as Jyn Erso in Rogue One, something positive, as the telling of an amazing story, must be the Heroic Journey's conclusion.
In stories, often underdogs win:
- The Tortoise in the fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.
- Judy Hopps in the modern animal fable, Zootopia.
- Country Mouse in The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
ALICE'S ADVENTURE IN WONDERLAND (1861)
In Alice in Wonderland, a young girl decides to follow an elegantly attired White Rabbit and starts an unforgettable adventure!
On her journey Alice shows her true colors in life and death situations! As a true resourceful heroine, Alice survived and returned home with a wonderful and unforgettable story!
"...but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet..."
From Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit-hole of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure in Wonderland
Would knowing more about rabbits and hares change your ideas about Alice's adventure?
Well Dressed Rabbits and Other Wonderful Animal Characters
As a writer you should become knowledgeable of the symbolic quality of everyday beings and objects that surround us, including animals.
For example, rabbits and hares appear in mythologies, folklore, stories, and novels because:
- As the Moon, they come out at night to play and can appear and disappear silently and quickly as shadows and as the Moon, they are related to life renewed through death.
- They are related to rampant growth and proliferation of living things or material possessions and may bring with them wastefulness, lust, and excess.
- According to Egyptian hieroglyphics, these animals were knowledgeable of life's secret elements and they offered their knowledge to humanity.
- In the Tarot they are related to the Juggler, an instinctual and infantile creature.
When you are ready to write about animals and transform them into characters, be sure to research their nature and behavior in the wild and also their symbolism in human art from ancient times to the present.
EXERCISE: FROM ANIMAL CHARACTER TO STORY
Using character development and design methods used by writers of stories, novels and screenplays, let's explore our creativity... And maybe even discover more about our selves!
Create a character and you’ll create a story!
Step 1: Becoming One with Your Puppet
Let's distribute paper and coloring pencils or crayons around the room.
Now trace your puppet's silhouette on the sheet of paper and freely color your drawing.
Step 2: How well do you know your Character?
Using your imagination and creativity, answer as many of the following questions as you can to the best of your ability but work fast because this will keep the Interior Editor away!
a. Name or Nickname: What type of ANIMAL is your Character? Are they named after someone?
b. Family: Does your Character have a family? Mother, father, brothers and sisters? Are they happy with their family? Is your Character an orphan? What is their best and worse memory of their family?
c. Friendships: What type of friends does your Character have? What do other Characters say when your Character walks out of a room or party? Do they fear or feel jealous of him/her? Does your Character allow others to know their true nature or hides it?
a. Face: Describe the shape of the face. What does the face tell us? Eyes: Do they look sad, happy, forgiving, severe or cruel?
b. Skin: Soft and well taken care of or dried out by the Sun or damaged in some other way? Visits a plastic surgeon or “medical” spa?
c. Hair: Long, short, curly, straight, dirty, clean? Does your Character have enough money to take great care of his/her hair?
Age, Image & Education-
a. Age: What is your Character's age? Do they feel younger or older than their biological age?
b. Self Image: How does your Character feel about their looks? Do they feel good about their body type? Is your Character fashionable? Do they have a favorite designer or color?
c. Education: Did your Character graduate from high school/university? Where did they study? Occupation? Social status? Languages spoken? Accent?
a. Home: Describe your Character's house /apartment. How is their bedroom decorated? What kind of kitchen do they have? Cooking utensils? What's their favorite dish? Perhaps your Character is homeless?
b. Favorite Possession: A BMW or Jeep or Smart Car or some childhood toy or a gold ring or earrings or a pair of shoes? What pet does your Character have and what's its name? What does your Character WISH for?
c. Recreation: What does your Character consider fun? What is your Character’s favorite book or film or TV show? For your Character write: Journal Entry or Text Message or E Mail. Does he/she use FB and how many Friends does he/she have? What do they LIKE? Write a typical posting on FB.
a. Believes/Politics/Religion- Does your Character take life seriously or acts as a child? Does he/she wish to change the world? Is he/she religious or is going through a crisis of Faith? Does your Character believe in Heaven and Hell? Does he/she talk to Angels or God or Ghosts or Aliens or Vampires? What does he/she FEAR?
b. Ambitions/Attitudes- What do they WANT? To become Governor or President? Make a million dollars? Have a dozen children? Write a book? Win a Nobel Prize? Gets nervous easily or looses their cool? Brave? Bully, Humble or Snob? How does your Character solve problems, with instinct, logic or emotions? Does your Character need to control the environment or other people around them? Do they have any special or particular NEED?
c. Weaknesses/Strengths- Imagine a diamond shape: What adjective that most strongly/distinctively describes your Character would you write in the middle? On the 4 sides, what other predominant/distinctive Character Traits would you write?
STEP 2: Write a short fable or story and hand it to your professor.
If you wish, you can post your fable or short story below and we will all have a chance to comment on your work. We will all provide thoughtful and constructive feedback!
Audiences Must be Able to Relate to Characters in Fables and Stories
A Hero/Heroine in a Fable or Story can be:
- young or old
- wanderer or home body
- martyr or warrior
- vengeful or forgiving
- ruler or servant
- fool or innocent
- human or animal
On the Journey to achieve their dreams, often Heroes:
- lose someone they love, or
- lose a physical ability, or
- their bodies get badly injured.
These painful losses or "scars" are physical and emotional and can never be completely erased.
 Image by Arthur Rackham under Public Domain.
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