Welcome, characters of all kinds!
Today’s topic is something near and dear to my heart—especially this summer with the project I’m working on—and that is character design! I know I barely touched character design with a 39.5 ft pole in my earlier posts (if you recall, I wrote that haphazard spiel called “Character Development 101”), but today I have returned with more knowledge. By more knowledge, I know now what not to do, which is just as effective as knowing what you’re doing. At least, that seems to be what nearly all of my professors remind me of, along with the oh-so-original-anecdote of how Edison was approached by his aide who, while in the process of discovering the lightbulb, expressed his doubts. Edison replied, “STFU, assistant! I know one-thousand ways not to make this glowing ball of glass, so don’t tell me how to do my job!”
…At least I think that’s what he said. I swear, I’ve heard that example said to me about ten times now and while I think it’s great that all these professors are inspired by it, they pitch it as a new story every. Single. Time.
But I digress. What I want to write to you today, dearest knowledge-seeker, is about designing a character in a story. While this summer I have been focusing on designing characters visually, I have also been studying other examples of character design and development in the context of larger stories. What actually inspired this post was a pilot for an online series that I think has great potential, but lacks in the character development department. It’s called “Obituary” (HERE’s a link if you want to check it out). This series is about a girl who can see ghosts, but really just wants to live a normal life.
I’m sorry, but this whole, “Oh woe is me! I have powers that make me different when I really just want to be like Joe-Schmo over there,” is getting tired. Or at least, I’m tired of it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it can be done right, but I feel like in order to justify that motivation for a character there has to be a pretty darn good reason for it. You can’t just leave the audience assuming that it’s because of evolutionary psychology—you know, how we evolved to be part of a collective because it gave us a better chance of survival. Or am I the only one who assumes that…?
Basically, I realized through this show that one of the things that upsets me is when characters are devoid of anything that makes them unique. It’s just not realistic; everyone has something that makes them who they are, and whatever that is it’s interesting! So how do you avoid making a character that’s content with being an Average Joe? Look at real people! I know I’ve probably said this before, but I swear that it is the number one best method for creating interesting characters. People are fascinating! Haven’t you had one of those moments with your friends or family where you thought, “Wow, we would make great movie characters,” or, “We could create the most hilarious web series”? Well, if you think that something you or someone else does warrants being enjoyed by someone else, it probably is!
So to be clear, I have nothing against “Obituary.” It really has a lot of potential as a show. It was only unlucky enough to be shown to me at the right place and the right time… For me anyway.
Good luck to all you creatives! May your characters come to life!