Character Part 5: Identity vs. Essence & Emphasized Cubby

Character Part 5: Identity vs. Essence & Emphasized Cubby


How the world sees your character.

It’s their public face. How they are perceived in a societal, general, sense.

We get a taste of this when people are referred to by their profession, or their social ties, or their surface level characteristics.

How about some examples?

  • Business woman
  • Homeless bum
  • Cab driver
  • Hooker
  • Rockstar
  • Saint
  • Criminal
  • Family man
  • Best friend
  • Husband
  • Wife
  • Delivery boy

These are all ways in which people first experience a character. The first impression. Who the character seems to be on the surface.

Notice that supporting characters are typically thought of in this way.

Defined purely by their relationship to the main character:

  • Best friend
  • Sister
  • Dad
  • Boss
  • Teacher
  • Love interest

All of these labels have socially ascribed meaning embedded within them. We all get a certain surface level idea of who the person is when we hear them.

But let’s dig a little deeper:


Who your character truly is, based on what is in their heart and mind.

What is the content of their character beneath the labels, beneath the perceptions, beneath the assumptions?

This is the soul of your character. The part that an audience identifies with and will ultimately embrace or reject.

By day, this character seems to be a successful business man.
By night, he’s actually a serial killer.

Or a much more subtle version:
On the surface, this character seems to be very refined and sophisticated.
But behind closed doors they’re actually the opposite.

No one is ever really what they seem to be. Juxtaposing a character’s identity versus their essence, adds nuance and complexity. It makes them a real person, who has many sides to their personality.

Emphasized Cubby

As stated earlier, each character has a particular role to play in the larger story. This is where the “emphasized cubby” comes in.

When constructing your story, you have fifteen different cubbies to concern yourself with. Fifteen different plates spinning at once.

How do you express all of these ideas in a clear coherent way? One sure fire way is to:

Make each character a spokesperson for a different cubby.

One character is the moral center of your story, another embodies the emotion line, another is the main source of conflict, etc.

When you anchor these ideas via specific characters, it gives them emotional heft. It allows the cubbies to fully come to life through specific people, rather than remaining abstract concepts. It also ensures that each character in your story has something concrete to contribute to the greater story as a whole.

No one gets wasted.

You can do this for every character and every cubby – give it a try.