The Four Character Levels

Table of Contents

Peter Dunne, movie and TV writer who’s won Emmys and a Peabody award, has a great book in Emotional Structure to let you explore and define and show your characters’ emotions. Dunne talks early on about the Four Character Levels:

1. Individual: The outer layer, what is shown to the world
2. Familial: The belief system, secrets, seat of guilt
3. Social: Cultural, other-oriented, obligations and changeable
4. Emotional: The real deal, what the character really feels — whether they are aware of it or not.

In 11 pages which Dunne writes very early in his book, he breaks down how these levels show how your hero relates to the world. You can work on these things using the book’s exercises. Great stuff.

“Trust your growth,” he says to inspire us. “Every time you create a character or write a scene you grow, too. Just as you ask your hero to trust his process, you must trust yours.”

As I polish Viral Times in its extensive revision, I keep these levels in mind for my characters. Dorothy Bezder shows up in Chapter Six, to introduce a character she loves who is capable of great violence, all in the name of a vengeful god. What happens to Dorothy after Six? What are her levels?

Artist’s choices for me.

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