Friday, January 14, 2011

My character is strong and weak and it all somehow makes sense

I'm finally getting around to watching Breaking Bad. The main character plays a man that initially appears a little meek, and quiet and is desperately sick and cannot afford the payments for the treatment that may help him get better. And then through the course of the second episode, the audience learns that this quiet man has a fierce, unassailable pride, all played brilliantly by Brian Cranston.

Then you have Don Draper, who is so capable and assured in the office and a mess in his personal life, weak almost, and trying desperately to not show this weakness, which results in terrible personal decisions, a lovely contrast to how his confidence in business usually helps him make the right decision there.

Another show that always demonstrated this well, was Battlestar. Starbuck was a fascinating character, because she was so strong in battle, strong physically and completely weak within herself, whereas the physically weakest character on the show, the president, a woman crippled by illness could make the most cold, clinical, strong decision almost every time.

What I love about those shows is how they turn the audience's initial impression of a character upside down, without undermining that first impression.

I've been thinking about Maureen's post about the monster inside me in YA fiction. I'm writing a book where the main character is initially weak, both by circumstances and her own fear, but the monster in her, gives her both a physical strength and more confidence by the end of the book. But I want to do this transformation in such a way that the girl who existed at the beginning of the book is still very much present.

So that the changes build into the character who was at the beginning of the book and make her more complex, rather than a whole new person.

Sounds so easy, freakin' hard to do.

Other than that, I'm getting ready to watch the Golden Globes on the weekend. Anyone else interested in watching?


Stephanie Doyle said...

Awesome post Sinead!

I'm a huge fan of that progression as well. One of my favorite stories that never came to light was the story of a barely recovered addict being thrust into a dangerous situation. I wanted that concept of a person barely keeping it together - who now suddenly was in this situation where she had to go even deeper inside herself to pull it out.

It's a great challenge and maybe more so for you... because you still want that girl who was there in the beginning to still be there at the end too.

And the truth is it's much more realistic that way.

Remember Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone. Total transformation from "scared shy weak woman" to "beautiful confident powerful" woman.

Would that really happen after a week with Jack Colton? I don't know. Somethings would change sure... but not everything.

We are who we are.

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post.

Last weekend, I was reminded by our own Molly of Robert McKee's take on 3 dimensional characters. (Probably not his, but as we saw that weekend, he takes credit for just about everything on the planet.)

Anyway... it was that after you pick the dominant character traits, you have to make sure to show the opposite, too.

Weak => Strong
Fearful => Brave
Trusting => Distrusting

Can't tell you how much this has helped me while revising... My character is primarily brave, selfless and diisrusting at the beginning of the book... so I need to show that first. But I also need to show her fearful, selfish and trusting or she'll seem flat.
Then as the book progresses, the negative traits that need to change most via her character arc, will slowly morph. I hope.

Maybe I'll pull out STORY and try to do a post on this next week, because I also remember this great stuff about using secondary characters to pull out the different sides of your character... (she's brave around everyone but X) (she distrusts everyone but Y) I thought that was brilliant when he said that, but had forgotten it... Very grateful to Molly for sparking it again just at the right time.

Eileen said...

Oh, fascinating stuff to think about! I get tired of characters who are always perfect (Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series, anyone?) and I get tired of characters who never overcome their flaws (Stephanie Plum, anyone else?). This is a fascinating way to twist them around a bit.

It's definitely hard, Sinead, but so worth it!

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