Thursday, July 9, 2009

Command Presence in MCs

When I attended police academy years ago, my instructors had a phrase for the quality that allows an officer to step up and take charge of a difficult situation--command presence. They encouraged their students to develop this trait in how they deal with the public, suspects and victims in the line of duty.

Command presence can be incorporated as a personality trait in an MC, a secondary character, even a villain, if you're selective in how you frame the words, actions and attitudes. This quality should never be shown as haughtiness, superiority or conceit. It's more about how a character's demeanor is perceived by other characters. A person who demonstrates command presence instills confidence and trust in others. He/she is looked at as the natural leader, the go-to person, or the one who calls the shots.

In P2PC, my male MC is a fish out of water, a fugitive, and at the mercy of the pilot who agrees to help him escape. It was difficult to keep his character strong and maintain reader respect under these circumstances, but in spite of his situation he demonstrates strength of will, even though he is always a bold pawn, at best.

Draxis is a another matter. My male MC is indisputably in charge and in his main introduction (though not his actual debut), my purpose was to establish him as a force to be reckoned with in the eyes of the female MC. He has to be confident and capable to deal with his headstrong and often unpredictable match. At the same time, I had to avoid making him too unsympathetic, a typical heart throb who has sexual power over women and alpha male power over men. His command presence had to be understated and subtle. It took a few takes to get what I was going for. The female MCs thoughts and perceptions of him were the key to the reader's impressions.

Command presence does not make a character perfect, it's more about knowing how to show the character radiates "positive vibes." But it's a lot like acting. No character can be on stage indefinitely. His/her vulnerabilities will eventually show. So command presence is akin to turning on a light when it's needed, and knowing how long it can stay on and when it should go dark.

Here are a few examples of well-known characters with command presence from cinema and television. Each of these characters are perceived as leaders or authority figures, though each demonstrates these attributes in different ways:

Aragorn (LoTR)

Glinda (Wizard of Oz)

Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly/Serenity)

Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens)

The Fonz (Happy Days)

Ana-Lucia (Lost)

Jack Riley (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and other Tom Clancy novels)

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