Well, at the time of writing this article, I’m kind of busy with this year’s Halloween comic. Although it probably won’t start appearing here for a week and a half or so, I thought that I’d ramble about one basic characterisation technique that this comic has reminded me of.
Before I go any further, I should warn you that this article will contain some SPOILERS for my upcoming Halloween comic. So, if you’re looking forward to reading it without SPOILERS, then you might want to give this article a miss.
This basic characterisation technique is simply to place your characters in a crisis situation and to see how they react to it. This is, quite literally, one of the oldest tricks in the book (eg: it’s one of the many types of dramatic conflict that writers can use) and it works!
You can both show off a lot about your characters and learn a lot about them through this simple technique. At the very least, a crisis situation can be a good way to emphasise your characters’ personalities and to show them to the audience in a stronger way than you would be able to do during more “ordinary” situations.
With that said, I thought that I’d show you a few examples of the technique in action.
First of all, here’s a chart showing the characters in my Halloween comic (and the webcomic mini series that is being posted here every evening at the moment):
My Halloween comic will be called “Zombies Again!” and, as you may have guessed from the title, it features these four characters trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Since this will be a comedy comic, there probably won’t be any of the usual depressing zombie movie/novel clichés (eg: finding groups of deranged survivors, characters deciding whether to shoot someone who has been bitten etc…). But, even though the “crisis” that these characters face is a relatively non-threatening one, this comic still ended up containing a lot more characterisation than I expected.
Ever since I got back into making this long-running comic series in 2015 (after a one-year hiatus), there have been quite a few subtle character changes. The most notable of these is that Derek has become something of an “evil” character. Most of the time, this is fairly subtle and understated – but, in the chaos of a zombie apocalypse, this side of his character can emerge a lot more freely….
Of course, being a comedy comic, this part of his character is played for laughs more than anything else. But, you get to see a lot more of his “evil” side than you might do in a 4-5 panel self-contained “newspaper comic” style webcomic update.
Rox is also a fairly interesting character to write in this Halloween comic, since she has a small amount of character development. At the beginning of the comic, she’s reluctant to actually fight the zombies and is more interested in both playing and modding old computer games (to the point where she doesn’t even hear about the zombie apocalypse when it appears on the news).
But, after one of her vintage floppy disks is lost to the zombies (in an amusingly bizarre way), she fights furiously to get it back. Yet, later in the comic, she’s also one of the “sensible” characters, who is more concerned with survival than with combat and/or opportunistic looting. These contradictions in her personality emerged a lot more freely during the crisis of a zombie apocalypse than they would in a self-contained 4-5 panel comic.
Harvey is the “sensible” and “altruistic” member of the group, and he has relatively little character development in this comic. Even so, he quickly ends up becoming the group’s leader during the zombie crisis. Another change is that his attitude towards fighting zombies is less gleeful than it was in this old comic from earlier this year. Despite this lack of character development, throwing him into a crisis situation allowed me to emphasise various pre-existing parts of his character.
Not only that, his dialogue during several zombie-related scenes also allowed me to show off a few other facets of his character – such as the fact that (despite being in his twenties) he has little understanding of youth subcultures from after the 1960s, he compiles lists of additional safety rules, he does public speaking about security etc..
Roz, of course, is Roz. That is, to say, her reactions to the zombie apocalypse are complex and varied. She was originally the “evil” character in the series, but she’s since turned into more of a “neutral”/ “good evil” kind of character over the space of several years. By placing her in a crisis situation, these elements of her personality are also amplified.
About half of the time, she’s fairly altruistic (eg: she helps the group find safety, she saves another character’s life, she’s occasionally reluctant to fight unnecessarily etc…). But, the other half of the time, she’s shown to be a sadistic nihilist pyromaniac whose main complaint about the zombie apocalypse is the fact that none of the TV stations are showing zombie movies on Halloween (out of respect for those affected by the apocalypse).
By placing her into a crisis situation, these conflicting facets of her personality get to emerge a lot more often and – more importantly- contrast with each other a lot more frequently.
So, yes, these are a few examples of how adding a crisis situation to your comic or story can be a great way to either develop or emphasise your characters.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂