Writing Intriguing Characters

Edward, played by Sebastian Sage, is one of my favorite characters from Mountain Cult.

Let’s discuss dramatic action a little more and how it can develop a 3 dimensional character.

Let’s make one up – we’ll call him “Bob.” Bob loves to feed his golden retriever every day. He takes him on walks where he tosses a frisbee and laughs when others greet him. He’s always got a diet coke in his hand and yes – you guessed it – he’s even got a goatee. He’s not ashamed of his baldness – in fact he jokes about it frequently – but he does wear a “Bass pro shop” cap every day of his life.

We all know someone like Bob.

I hope by now you have a strong inkling of who Bob is and what he is about. Probably a simple man, loving grandfather, and woodworking enthusiasts. Now what would be a dramatic element that could make this character more intriguing? Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Bob is actually training his dog for dogfights
  2. Bob goes on long walks to find the next victim for his serial killing addiction
  3. Bob maintains a tumblr blog
  4. Bob mails death threats to celebrities he doesn’t like
  5. Bob starts taking steroids
  6. Bob catfishes college girls on tinder

A few of the above qualities are enough to craft an interesting premise from – meaning the bizarre behavior itself could be a plot. The smaller ones – like Bob taking steroids or catfishing on tinder – merely make Bob a more compelling and intriguing character. The actions don’t compute with our stereotypical understanding of Bob, therefore we feel he is a character worthy of a deeper assessment. In other words, he rises from being a side character to a main character. In some cases we even want to follow Bob around and can see him acting as a protagonist.

Let’s take a look at the main character Ryan from my film series Mountain Cult –

He is impatient, obsessive, and a loner. He does not trust others and refuses to let others help even when he should. He is abrasive, controlling, and has tunnel vision for his missing wife. He is also fearless in his pursuit of her. He is stubborn to a fault. He believes that he alone can confront a secretive cult and outsmart members who are much smarter than himself. Ryan’s the type of dude to chug 10 beers then decide to mow the lawn.

Alright, so he’s interesting, not extremely likable, but features bravery, persistence, and loyalty – characteristics that align with a protagonist. Now let me do some out loud brainstorming to figure out what type of actions could result in him being a 3 dimensional character.

  1. Ryan repeatedly dreams about the same clown kicking his ass while he struggles to punch back
  2. Ryan writes poems about the sounds leaves make
  3. Ryan is afraid of flies
  4. Ryan never learned how to read
  5. Ryan’s favorite food is veganese
  6. Ryan only listens to classical music
  7. Ryan gets jealous of small and scrawny dudes because he’s insecure about being built like a trash can

Even though many of the qualities are comedic to us, they can still serve the story. An important consideration whenever you introduce comedic elements to a story is whether they subtract from the tension in the story (if you are NOT writing comedy). A true comedy is about funny situations, not merely funny character traits. The Marvel movies are a great example of what I’m referring to here – even though they are riddled with funny one-liners, the jokes themselves never reduce the tension in the moment.

Here’s a quick example: Joe enters the store to rob the place. He aims a gun at the man behind the counter and demands money. The man behind the counter squints and says “Joe? I haven’t seen you in forever!”

That line reduces the tension immediately. In changes the story into a comedy. Now imagine the man with the gun slips on a toy upon entering, then carries on with the robbery. We may laugh at the mishap, but the tension is still there – meaning it could be a heist story or thriller. His character made us laugh, but the situation didn’t.

Ok lets mold one more character for the sake of 3. Let’s invent Julie – she’s thirty years old, stocks shelves at the local grocery story, and shrugs at the idea of marriage. She binge watches documentaries about serial killers, eats cereal at any time she chooses, and smokes something every 30 minutes. Her ambition in life is to find the perfect temperature for the air conditioner setting, and she loves her dog named Bucky – who is a German Shepherd (which she bought illegally on the black market through a “friend”).

Julie is a familiar character to me, and someone I could definitely root for. Her lack of ambition is surely a fault, however, her contentment with mediocrity is something that’s both relatable and oddly enticing. Let’s see what dramatic actions she may take that would cause us to reconsider our assessment of her:

  1. Julie trades stocks at night and has amassed over 3 million in earnings.
  2. Julie has an uncontrollable attraction to Benjie, the doofus manager who wears glasses, tucks in his shirt, and gets flipped off by her daily.
  3. Julie once single-handedly cleared and saved a burning bus filled with children
  4. Julie lends horror DVDs to the kid next door with the overbearing parents
  5. Julie organizes a funeral after the town drunk dies and gets the entire town to attend

Again, a few of these are story worthy. Some of the ideas (like the last one) require a major character change (arc) for them to occur and be believable. Ideas like her having a crush on Benjie merely make her a more intriguing character.

Anyways, that’s all I got for today. I hope you found some use or chuckles out of these ideas. I also hope that I’ll be able to find a proper dramatic action for my own character in order to make him more appealing. Most of the items that I’ve listed are forms of irony – the proposed characteristics contradict what we anticipate the character would do or care about. That’s what makes them interesting – it adds color to their otherwise black and white demeanor.

I’ve spent my downtime while at work viewing other low budget short films searching for one worth of analysis. Oh boy do I feel better about my own abilities. If you ever want a night of cringe inducing laughter start checking out homemade movies that cost less than $100 to produce.

I’ve contacted one creator so far. Hopefully he will get back to me promptly so I can work on the video this weekend. Aside from that I have continued to reading through the 2 scripts I have from other writers in order to return coverage notes. I am not looking forward to the reception my feedback receives.

Hope you have a great day today and please don’t apply any of these ideas to your own life in hopes to make yourself more interesting. You may get you arrested.

A Conversation between Thomas M. Watt and a character from his book

Adam from, “Way of the World.”

Thomas and Adam were both sitting on the curb together. Thomas was wearing his shoulder sling, while Adam was sipping scotch from his flask, dressed in his usual eccentric attire.

“Rah, why are we here, Thomas?” said Adam.

Thomas shrugged. “I don’t know. Just wanted to talk, I guess.”

“Talk? You want to talk let’s do it at a barroom.”

“We’re here, so just deal with it.”

“Sure.” Adam scoffed. “Deal with it. He shook his head. “What a terrible phrase. Well, let’s have at it then. What have you brought me here for?”

“I wanted to talk about your plot. I wanted to see how you felt about it.”

“About what, exactly?” said Adam.

“You know, the love curse. The prophesy on the train. The fact that if you fall in love it puts your entire company at risk.”

“You know that company hardly matters to me. And I don’t care about love, either. Despite what you might think,” Said Adam, scratching his long white chin.

Thomas laughed and adjusted his sling. “What about those quiet moments when you seem ashamed of yourself?”

“What! C’mon! Everybody has those moments! It’s called having fun. Thomas, listen, I honestly don’t care about my plot, whatsoever. I just need you to do one thing for me.”

“What?”

“Allow me to fuck Evelynn.”

“What! I can’t do that!” said Thomas.

“Why not?” said Adam.

“Because that’s what’s driving your whole story now! It’ll kill the suspense!”

“Oh, forget suspense! Here, I’ve got an idea.” Adam stretched his tall lanky legs straight out in front of him, then rested his white-gloved hands in his lap.

“What?” said Thomas.

“How about this – If I don’t have sex with Evelynn at least twenty times in your novel, the Kingsley Products goes out of business.”

Thomas laughed. “I’m sorry, I can’t see that appealing much to readers over the age of thirteen.”

Adam stood up, then brushed some dirt off of his white buckskin shoes. “Rah.” He stood up straight. “Well what’s with you, anyhow?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, how are you? What exactly happened today?”

“With what?” said Thomas.

“Oh, c’mon, you know what! You had a captivating story going for a few days, then you published the finale this morning, and… well… let’s just say it wasn’t good.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“In fact, I’d say it was shit.”

“Yeah. I know,” repeated Thomas.

Adam laughed. He picked up a small black pebble then tossed it into the street. “Why did you publish it?”

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t know. I had forty-five minutes to write it, and by the time the first draft was finished, I had to get out the door. I guess I just pressed publish without a second thought.”

“It was a mistake.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Nine views and three likes. I’m hoping they just didn’t wanna press the button.”

“No,” said Adam. “They read it and decided it was shit.”

Thomas raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, or that.”

“Billy the butler? That was almost offensive. You’re not a very good writer, you know.”

“I created you.”

“Yeah, that’s why I said it. You don’t bring a character out of his normal setting to have a conversation with him. And about his own plot, for rah-sakes!”

Thomas stood up. “Well shit, I’ve been struggling all day with this thing. I even wrote a poem about it.”

“Yeah, and the poem sucked.”

“You’re kind of a dick, you know.”

“And you’re kind of a bad writer.”

“Whatever dude. I’m leaving.”

“Hey dude!” Adam called out, as Thomas started away.

“What?!”

“Write me more sex scenes! Get me some new flousies or something!”

“It’s spelled floozies.”

“Shut-it, you’re the writer. It was you who decided to be different and spell it your way.” Adam adjusted his black felt topper and failed to hide his smirk.

“What?” said Thomas.

“I’m just embarrassed to have been created by you, is all.”

Thomas opened to speak, before biting down hard on his bottom lip and walking away.

– Billy the Butler