Monday, October 28, 2013

Characters With Command Presence

Years ago when I attended police academy, 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. 

More recently I've drawn on this training to incorporate these traits into characters. Write what you know, indeed. :)

Command presence can manifest as a personality trait in an MC, a secondary character, even a villain, in how their words, actions and attitudes are framed. It isn't haughtiness, superiority or conceit. It's more about how a character projects themselves and how it's perceived by others. 

A person who demonstrates command presence instills confidence and trust in their companions. They control the situation in the face of threat or disaster and in the presence of a threatening foe, or even a superior. He/she is looked to as the natural leader, the go-to person, or the one who calls the shots, even though they may not be the highest ranking person present.

Often, the sense of command presence is established by a calm and

unruffled tone that demonstrate "grace under fire." Occasionally it has to be backed up with a show of force, either physically or strategically. 

Command presence often involves "command voice," which is assuming a calm, confident tone that radiates authority in times of stress or jeopardy. 

Command presence doesn't mean a character is too perfect, only that they have the ability to emote leadership. But it's much like acting. No character can be on stage indefinitely. His/her vulnerabilities will (and should) eventually show. So command presence is akin to turning on a light when it's needed, and knowing how long it should shine to accomplish the goal...and when it needs to go dark.

I have a few 'go to' characters that I invoke when writing scenes where my hero or heroine must exhibit command presence. For males, two favorites are Captain Jean Luc Picard (Star Trek: TNG) or Captain Ramius (Hunt for Red October).

For females, I often draw on Ellen Ripley (Aliens) or Ana Lucia Cortez (LOST).

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

+ Aragorn (LoTR)

+ George McClintock (McClintock)

+ Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly/Serenity)

+ Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)

+ Lindsey Brigman (The Abyss)

+ Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Aliens)

+ The Fonz (Happy Days)

+ Sarah Connor (Terminator 2)

+ Jack Riley (Patriot Games)

+ Glinda (Wizard of Oz)

What other stand out characters can you think of who exhibit command presence? Leave a comment to tell us about some of your favorites from books, TV, movies...or life. If you're a writer or author, feel free to share a snippet from your work of a character exhibiting command presence.


  1. Ooooh, I love this question! My personal favorites have always been Aragorn, James T. Kirk and Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. Who wouldn't sit up and pay attention when those guys came in the room?

    Some others? Gregory Peck as Captain Horatio Hornblower (or Atticus Finch, for that matter) and FBI Special Agent Seely Booth (David Boreanaz), the model for my series character Captain Sam Murphy.

  2. Jonathan Archer, Star Trek: Enterprise
    The White Witch, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
    Princess Aurora, Flash Gordon
    Servalan, Blake's Seven (odd, but it's all villains when it comes to the girls)
    And of course Doctor Who...

  3. Some great choices, Donna. Robin Hood. Oh yes!

    Pippa, Star Trek really hit a home run in the Command Presence department. Captain Janeway is another non-villain example.


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