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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Everything I Need to Know About Characterization I Learned from Gilligan's Island

Any author who is at all serious about her craft would be well-advised to invest a little time in researching literary archetypes.  These "tried and true" personalities can provide interesting starting points for your own cast of characters.

If you're a teacher, show an episode of Gilligan's Island to your students and see if they can identify the following characteristics in the castaways.  If you're an author, complete this activity as a relaxing exercise in character analysis.

The Best Friend
As the name states, this character is a loyal ally and a peacemaker.  He can be an easily distracted daydreamer but is also recognized for his cheerful, optimistic nature.  

The Chief
Impatient, demanding, and loud, the CHIEF is also a charismatic leader.  He excels at organization, recognizes the latent potential in others, and knows how to motivate people.  Despite his brusque personality, he cares about his companions and does everything in his power to keep them safe.

The Charmer

The CHARMER is a charismatic smooth talker and sometimes a bully.  He's enamored with himself like Gilderoy Lockhart from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, avoids unpleasant tasks, and revels in being the center of attention.  At times, he exhibits moments of surprising generosity.

The Nurturer
 The NURTURER is compassionate and loving and is happiest when interacting with others.  She is generous to a fault, her selfless nature often putting her at risk of emotional injury.  She's a personable character who is a friend to all.

The Spunky Kid
 The SPUNKY KID is dependable, enthusiastic, and committed to teamwork.  Her courage and devotion make her a steadfast ally.

The Professor
 Okay, this is a no-brainer, but the character is still worth mentioning.  The PROFESSOR is an intelligent, curious problem-solver who enjoys a good challenge.  Because of his vast knowledge, others turn to him for answers, but his keen mind can make him inflexible and oblivious.

The Seductress
Another no-brainer if you've watched this sitcom even once.  Appearance means everything to the SEDUCTRESS because she uses her beauty to manipulate men.  She is uninhibited, aggressive, and often insensitive to the needs of others.

The Boss
 The BOSS is confident, sophisticated, and commanding.  Because she isn't easily intimidated she can almost always hold her own against other strong personalities.  She may seem aloof, but she has the capacity to be caring and friendly.

You might notice that although there are only seven castaways on Gilligan's Island, I've included eight different archetypes.  Interesting characters aren't always -- and shouldn't be -- pigeon-holed into one specific category.  Memorable characters will often cross lines in unpredictable ways.

This activity can be completed with any number of different novels, movies, and television shows, but I like to use Gilligan's Island as an effective lead-in to characterization through dialogue.  Stay tuned next time for a fun, motivating dialogue activity that has been very successful with my students.