Character Development > Essence and Action Traits

Cheryl and James do an overview of character traits, introducing the distinction between Essence Traits (what a character “is”) and Action Traits (the traits that more directly lead to plot-related behavior). Examples include Indiana Jones, James Bond, The Big Chill, the work of Joan Bauer, Mad Men, The Hunger Games, Back to the Future, and more.

James mentions the first draft of a simple graphic he made called “The Story Ecosystem” (see above) which is a reminder about the interdependence between essence traits, action traits, plot events (what happens to a character) and plot actions (what a character does). It also speaks to the idea that you don’t have to write in any linear order – you can start with any aspect of character or plot. Just remember every input in one category should usually cause an output in another category. Feel free to let him know what you think in the comments.

Link: The Indiana Jones story conference featuring George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan.

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More about this show, for new listeners:

In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc. Each episode, Cheryl and James draw upon their respective experiences in publishing and filmmaking to analyze popular novels, movies, plays, television shows, short stories, and song lyrics. Featuring various co-hosts and writers, as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ iPhone / iPad app ‘The Storyometer.’


One Response to “Character Development > Essence and Action Traits”

  1. Carole Gaudet October 4, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Interesting how in books, physical appearance is not one of the most important aspects of character. Unlike film and stage, where you want an actor who can act AND look the part. Books leave more room for the reader to fill in what the character looks like. Before we saw the Harry Potter movies, we had our own images, in our heads, of what the characters and the world looked like. Some readers of the series didn’t even want to see the movies because they didn’t want their own images to be substituted for the film’s images.

    What I liked about your bringing this up was that it reminded me how, in this particular way, books don’t have to be influenced by film. Today, I think that books are hugely influenced by the pacing in films. Les Edgerton talks about that in “Hooked”, his book on craft, and I think in some ways, “Hooked” and its progeny has got me and my writer friends all paranoid about matching the pacing and economy of film. But this episode of NB reminds me that films have their place, and books have theirs. Films are great at showing the physical. (Well, duh.) The characters, the scenery. But books do internal dialogue! They do it better than any other medium, perhaps. We read because we want to get close to a character.

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