Some time ago, I wrote a short article describing the four P’s of character: Psychology, Personality, Persona and Perception.
Psychology was described as the underlying structure and dynamics of a character’s given mind set. Personality were the interests and mannerisms of a character that define the specific areas to which its psychology is applied. Persona is the face a character presents to the world – its apparent personality which enhances some things, diminishes other and adds or eliminates traits and attributes that don’t really exist in its actual personality. Finally, Perception is how a character tailors or applies its persona to adapt to or manipulate specific people and/or situations.
My understanding of the four P’s emerged from my work on a new book entitled, The Story Mind, which is intended to document and advance the concept that every narrative operates as a model of the mind’s operating system.
In fiction, this means that characters represent facets of the overall mind of the story itself in addition to being real people in their own right. In the real world, it means that people automatically self-organize into groups structured by narrative in which each participant evolves into a role within the group an a facet of the group mind, becoming the voice of reason, for example. In this manner the problem-solving capacity of the group as a whole is enhanced by having each member specialize in a different aspect of problem solving, rather than simply being a collection of parallel processors all trying to attack the central issue from all sides as general practitioners.
In the ongoing development of the Story Mind book, I have come to focus more and more on the real world implications of narrative theory. In fact, so much new material is emerging that I felt it would be worthwhile to jot down this quick article outlining some of the more intriguing applications.
For some twenty years we have described how a main character in a story who is by nature a do-er, would be an uncomfortable participant in deliberation/decision story in which they are required to soul-search and perhaps superficially adopt an attitude in order to affect the participation of others and even as a requirement to achieve the goal.
Similarly, a main character who is by nature a be-er would be uncomfortable in a story that required them to take action rather than influence others in order to achieve the goal.
Yet new understandings indicate that even archetypal objective characters such as Protagonist, Antagonist, Reason or Emotion, who are not the main character (not the individual grappling with the story’s central message issue or moral) may still suffer internal dissonance in fulfilling their structurally mandated role within the greater Story Mind.
A reluctant Protagonist or an emotionally-driven individual forced to function as the Reason archetype will suffer a growing angst caused by their situational inability to respond in a manner appropriate to their true make-up, their true underlying psychology.
Similarly, an actor in a role in an ongoing television series or long-term stage production may find that the character they portray chafes at their inner self if it is a poor fit. Depending on the magnitude of this dissonance an actor may be unsuccessful in being able to continue to portray their character in the long term – partially due to the internal strain and partly due to their declining ability to show the character to the audience with complete integrity.
Even if an actor in dissonance with their character can overcome their internal angst and continue to portray that fictional psychology, their own blind spots will provide weak spots in their presentation in which inconsistent attributes belonging to the actor may slip into the performance unnoticed, thereby rendering a character that the audience will see as not ringing true. In addition, things a given character would certainly do may never come to the mind of the actor if the fit is too poor.
Conversely, if the fit is close but not exact, continued portrayal may cause the actor to gradually alter their own underlying psychology to match that of the character, losing themselves in the role. In this case, once the role is over, the actor has become the character in real life, at least in a psychological sense, and even during the role the actor may begin to respond more as the character than as themselves. In fact, method acting is all about immersion in a role, but the psychological process of behavioral modification is always at work. In the real world this leads to such scenarios as the Stockholm Syndrome in which a victim comes to side with the perpetrator.
Naturally, the degree of dissonance and the length of the portrayal are the essential moderating factors which determine if an actor will be successful in playing a given character and whether or not the actor will be altered by the process and to what degree.
Taking all of this into consideration, we can see that fictional characters must illustrate this dissonance within the narrative itself. At the next level, an actor must not only portray that dissonance, but be alert to the actual dissonance which may grown within themselves. And finally, in the real world, we should all take stock, from time to time, whether our Psychology, Personality, Persona and Perception are (individually or in some combination) creating dissonance with and alteration of our essential natures in our own lives, for good or for bad.
For more information on real world narratives, read my article The False Narrative
Melanie Anne Phillips