The Character Triangle

Posted on April 13, 2009 by


triangleLast Friday I invited my friends Porter and Derek over for a game night. We had a great time, and more time was spent in conversation than game playing.

Much of our discussion revolved around the “character triangle” that Porter introduced. It’s a device that we used for analyzing the relationships between characters in a TV show or movie. The idea is that, if a show’s character dynamics aren’t working well, it’s probably because they aren’t balanced well.

The triangle describes the three forces that motivate characters. Red characters are driven by things that should be done. Blue characters are driven by things that shouldn’t be done. And yellow characters are driven by whatever moves them at the moment.

Red characters are often warriors, mechanics, and other hands-on, get-the-job-done types. Blue characters are generally represented by doctors, scientists, and priests — people who subscribe to a system of rules and laws. Yellow characters are best represented in children, but also in artists.

Then there are the hybrid characters — orange (a combination of purpose and curiosity), who are leaders, purple (a combination of purpose and inhibition), who are judgmental, and green (a combination of curiosity and inhibition), who are socially conscious.

While the triangle is fun for character analysis (we decided that Firefly‘s Mal is orange, Star Trek‘s Scotty is red, and The Office‘s Pam and Angela are green and purple, respectively), I found it more interesting to apply to real life.

The observation was made that women who are active in the church tend to be green, while the men tend to be purple. That is anecdotal, of course, and like all gross generalizations, is probably quite inaccurate.

One thing I like about the character triangle is that it is open to character change and development, as opposed to personality tests, which describe fundamental personal traits that are supposed to be constant throughout life. I can plot my life on a line that leads through several of the colors.

One of the other discussion topics of the evening was Chinese martial arts, which are divided into yang (active) arts and yin (passive) arts. The triangle can also divide that way, with red, yellow, and orange in the yang and green, purple, and blue in the yin (although I suppose you could also argue a red-orange-purple/blue-green-yellow division).

So what are your favorite shows, and how do their characters fall out in the triangle?

Posted in: Entertainment