In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri points out that every object has three dimensions: Height, Width, Depth. Characters, on the other hand, have three extra dimensions.
Egri begins with the most simple of the three: Physiology. To illustrate how physiology affects character, he provides examples of a sick man seeking health above all else, whereas a normal person may rarely give health any thought at all. He suggests that physiology affects a character’s decisions, emotions, and outlook.
The second dimension is Sociology. This deals with not only a character’s physical surroundings, but his or her interactions with society. He asks questions like: Who were your friends? Were your parents rich? Were they sick or well? Did you go to church? Egri constantly explores how sociological factors affected the character, and vice versa.
The most complex of the three is Psychology, and is the product of the other two.
In an industry obsessed with high concept and plot, it is important to restore the balance by placing equal focus on character. According to Egri, it is character, not plot, that ought to determine the direction of the story.
The Bone Structure of Character
Egri provides categories for developing character. Collectively, he calls these categories the character’s bone structure. Filling out the specific details of each serves as a good start in creating a three dimensional character.
Height and weight
Color of hair, eyes, skin
Place in community: leader among friends, clubs, sports
Amusements, hobbies: books, newspapers, magazines
Sex Life, moral standards
Personal premise, ambition
Frustrations, chief disappointments
Attitude toward life
This post looks at Lagos Egri’s three dimensions that must be addressed in order to craft well-rounded characters: physiology, psychology, and sociology.
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Image: Ryan Baumann