Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Assembling Your Cast by Angela Arndt

Who were you in high school? Were you the class clown? The popular gal or guy? Surely you weren’t the bully! 

Throughout my teaching career, whether tutoring a group of seven-year-olds or teaching ethics to an auditorium of corporate executives, I've always found certain roles within groups. In fact, some roles are so vital to the group dynamics that if one person leaves, someone else will take his or her place. 

In fact, one year I had a bully in my class who was so hurtful to others that the principal expelled her mid-term. You can imagine my surprise when her favorite target soon took her place as the aggressor in the classroom.

Using Roles to Create Flawed Characters

If we want to imitate life with our stories, we need to use these roles to create complex characters, not one-dimensional stereotypes. Casting misfits who become heroic even with their flaws are a great way to create and maintain interest in your story.

Character Roles

Character roles within most groups, especially those who are together for a long time, are usually set. The roles include:

  • The Intellectual One: the smartest one in the group.
  • The Popular One: the one everyone loves.
  • The Athlete: the most athletic and competitive.
  • The Loner: the shyest, with the least number of friends.
  • The Clown: may not be the funniest, but still tries to make people laugh. The Clown usually has a secret or is hiding something.
  • The Rebel: Resists authority, usually because someone in authority has abused his or her power.
  • The Cheerleader: people-pleaser, feels an intense pressure to be the best at everything, make everyone happy.
But don't stop there. Combine these roles and add another characteristic that can be turned on its head by the end of the book. For example:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

Mary Lennox, Socially Awkward Loner to Authoritative Cheerleader. Begins the story as a spoiled, unhappy little orphan until she finds someone who is worse: her sickly cousin. From the first stamp of her foot at his crying tantrum, she begins to change.

Colin Craven, Poor Little Rich Kid to Enthusiastic Outdoorsman. Mary’s cousin, Colin, is a depressed invalid, convinced he’ll grow a hump and/or die before he grows up. With Mary’s help, Colin changes to a child who can't wait to get outdoors and see life.

You can use roles to create supporting characters, too.
Dickon, Mischievous Guide. Dickon doesn’t change but remains the children’s encouraging guide throughout the story.

Mrs. Medlock and Ben Weatherstaff, Grumpy Caretakers. Both fill the same role, one inside, the other outside.

Archibald Craven, Depressed Loner. Colin’s father shares his son’s depression over the loss of his wife. Although he’s an absentee father, when he finally returns to find his son walking, he also changes to find hope for the future.

The Princess Bride (movie)

  • Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts – Poor Loner to Swashbuckling Hero
  • Buttercup – The Picky Princess to Loving Wife
  • Inigo Montoya – Revenge-Seeker to Swashbuckler Hero
  • Fezzik – Gentle Giant
  • Vizzini – Arrogant Intellectual
Next time you want to create a satisfying cast of characters, consider the roles your characters play, then add a surprising characteristic to create dimension to your story.

Want to try it yourself? Choose a classic such as The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe or your own story and identify the roles used to create the main characters.
About the Author
Angela Arndt writes women’s fiction with a thread of romance, telling stories of strong, independent women in difficult situations set in small Southern towns. Her biggest hope is that she will encourage others to overcome their “back roads” and find their own joy in the Lord.

Angela has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of South Carolina. She and her husband, Charles, live on a bee farm in the middle of a big wood with their furbabies: Beau, Harley and Buddy the Wonder Dog.