Archive for the ‘Character Focus’ Category

So I’ve recently been digging into Fox’s “Gotham” TV series,  It’s what I’d call a mixed bag with some really good performances from some of it’s actors, even though it requires me to mentally prepare myself that this show has very few shits to give about it’s continuity with the rest of DC’s Batman comics. It’s a dark and gritty Noir detective story featuring James Gordon early in his Career at the GCPD as he hunts down the progressively stranger criminals of Gotham. And they don’t come any weirder then Jerome Valeska.

Jerome_valeska

Look at that smile, doesn’t it just scream well adjusted adult.

   Also and Just in case.

Spoilers Ahead

 

 

Presentation: Steal the Show

Gotham is packed full of crazy super villains, Poison Ivy, Mr. Fries, Firefly. It’s underworld is often ruled by intelligent and charismatic mobsters. The criminal element makes some beautiful scenery in Gotham giving you a simultaneous feeling of being in a comic book and in the godfather, it’s packed with larger the life characters.

Jerome is what happens when you take charismatic and crazy and turn it up to eleven. Whether it’s his initial reveal after discovering he murdered his mother, that time he sat a school bus on fire or that night he was wandering around without his face. Whenever Jerome is on stage all eyes are on him, which is an impressive talent when half the criminal underworld has superpowers and the only thing you’ve accomplished in life so far is to murder your mother.

stewie

Sixteen seasons in and I’m starting to think this asshole forgot about it. 

   Whether it’s spelling out you names with bodies dropped from a tall building, setting a bus full of cheerleaders on fire or just running around town without your face, when your villain makes his way onto your pages he should demand to be the star of the show. And who would tell him otherwise?

 

 

Plot: Taking refuge in absurdity

Part of Gotham’s Charm is that it takes all of it’s weirdest elements and plays them straight. It’s cops to doing cop stuff in a city that just happens to have people who can control others with there mind, or have blood that turns anybody it touches into a psychopath. It’s always played straight and it’s always taken seriously.

An in-spite of this it’s an anything but ordinary psychopath who pushes plausibility to it’s limits. Jerome killed his mother for being a nag, fought with a man with a katana using a chainsaw, then played Russian roulette for the the sword, pulling the trigger on himself three times in a row in revolver that only held five rounds.

The most beautiful thing Jerome has blessed the show with his appearance is a spark of insanity that says “While I’m on screen anything goes.”

russian-roulette-2.png

Who’s the boss

 

Legacy: Achieving your promises

I think ultimately what makes Jerome an intensely fun to watch is his laughter, from the first moment he laughs in his debut episode the show makes a promise to it’s viewers. This character is a legend, one of the most Iconic villains if not the most Iconic villain of our modern era, and here’s how he got his start. When your working with a character that has almost 80 years of story behind him when you start to write, it puts a burden on the character and in this case the actor who portrays him.

Jerome is mostly wonderful mix of Mark Hamill’s and Heath Ledger’s interpretations of the character. He has all the manic energy and stage presence of the joker from the animated series and all the calculating malice that Ledger brought to the silver screen in “The Dark Knight.”  The writers and the actor portraying Jerome have a fine tuned understanding of the character they wanted to put on TV and they followed through with it.

What does that mean for all of us not working on characters who have been in print longer then many of us have been alive. It’s simple, when you set up a character, the moment that you bring him on to the page or put him on a screen, you’re making a promise to your audience. You promise to make this character the best version of who ever he or she is and when you come through on these promises your audience will love you for it.

So go out there and make Monsters.

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The last time I wrote a character focus it was about a villain you could respect, maybe even love. This time were going to focus on a much different kind of character, one who get’s slapped around by a dwarf, one who let’s his sword be stolen by a little girl, on who hides behind his mothers skirts. This weeks Character Focus presents none other than Joffrey Baratheon.


May the Others take him.

For those of you who don’t know, Joffery Baratheon is one of the major antagonist in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series,  for those of you who haven’t read the books I need to post some quite obvious spoiler warnings

spoilers Ahead

That ought to work, now down to business. Joff is signigficantly different then most  characters and even villains that you read about these days, mostly because he’s a intolerable twat. Most writer’s resources will tell you that your villains need to be deep and likable in one way or another, Joff however stands out as being as deep as dry lake bed and only being slightly well like more the AIDs and yet the character serves his purpose quite well and while I may never like Joff, I always have some sort of emotional response to his scenes, albeit it’s mostly hate, mixed with some disgust. So how do we emulate such response from our readers regarding our dastardly villains?

Threat: somebody is going to die

Martin is well know as an author who loses little sleep from killing beloved characters, and when Joffery takes center stage that threat becomes overbearing, When ever he has scene the tension jumps dramatically simply because of the characters reputation. In the TV show Game of Thrones, Joff has Ned Stark beheaded even though his mother and all of his councilors had planned to spare him. In the Show this is done in the middle of a courtyard, but in the books it’s done in the middle of a temple so that everybody got the idea that this was to be a pardoning not an execution. Joff made short work of that and the started off on his own blody rain of death and brutality.

plotting: The best laid plans…

Outside of fits of violence the boy king can be counted on to make bad decisions,  which act as boon to enemies and torment to his family. In book series like A Song of  Ice and Fire which follows characters from every side of the central conflict, you have to juggle success and failure vary carefully, because for evert victory a pov character has counts as failure on another, let one person grow to strong and the book becomes one sided. Joffery helps balance out the successes of his compatriots who normally wouldn’t make such foolish mistakes, and forces them to work around Joffery’s madness.

Foils: Making Men out of monsters

For those of you who aren’t in the know, a dramatic foil(just foil for short) is when a pair of characters are paired together to make there traits stand out, often done in a simple fashion to make strong characters look stronger and make smart characters to look smarter. However a foil can be used for far more the exemplifying simple traits, it can be used to muffle them as well  take Joffery’s loyal hound Sandor Clegane, who spends most of his time drinking, killing, and the drinking some more. Yet in moments when he, Sansa are together, the reader has to pause and really think about whether or not Sandor is all that bad of guy. Joff has a similar affect on everybody around him, by the nature of being the most monstrously hated character in the room, everybody else looks like better person for it.

 
“I may have started a war that killed million and committed acts of genocide, but at least I never laid a hand on Sansa Stark”- Hitler

Joffery is going to go down as one of the most hated characters in the history of American fiction, he’s craven, crule, incompotent, he’s everything that writers are told to avoid, but leave it to writer like Martin to pull off such a character in such a splendid fashion, and let it be reminder to other writers out there that at the end of the day, write the characters you want to write, write the characters you need to write and don’t let any other writer tell you otherwise even if that writing leads to little incestful balls of hatred and abomination so evil that Dalek wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

Breaking the Bat

Posted: September 24, 2012 in Character Focus
Tags: , , , , ,

Nolan left his mark on the world in the last half decade by producing a reimagined Batman, one that held the dark roots that had become it’s staple but stripped it of it’s comic book elements and instead went for a more realistic world that previous Batman movies had avoided. What came about in the process was some of the best characters to ever grace the silver screen, and possibly more the entirety of batman continuity. So without further adieu, I present to you the man who broke the Bat.


Now is not the time for jokes, that comes later.

Introductions: show us the man

Those first few moments, the first bit of dialogue, those first five lines are often the make or break point of a character, and they can tell you exactly what level of writer you’er dealing with whether it’s a film, a game or a novel. Nolan introduces Bane as a man who competent, intelligent, physically powerful and incredibly charismatic. Within five minutes of being introduced, he verbally spares with a CIA agent, breaks free of handcuffs, crashes the plane he currently in with one of his own men willing to die in the wreckage. It was beautiful, It not only told us about what Bane could do, but it also painted him in light that made viewer want root for him, it left the audience for the next scene Bane would show up in.

For all the aspiring writers out there, take note of this, especially for the characters whoa aren’t going to be getting the same kind of face time as your antagonist, if it’s going to be twenty pages before the reader here’s or see about your villain, if this supporting character isn’t going to show up in the film for another thirty minutes then leave the audience with a strong impression on just who and what this character is and about. Find out what you character is, and then give them a brief moment to flex, this ins’t the time for subtly, that comes later.

The same joke twice? Your punishment must be more severe 

Competence: Give him something to do

One of the better qualities of Nolan’s villains is that they’re not sit in a chair and stroke a cat kind of guys. They get out there get out there and get things done. We like Bane partly because he can take care of business himself, Nolan wrote him to be competent and so when Bane shows up on screen things go his way, making everyone else including Batman look inept. But it’s not just that, it’s the fact that Bane plays a part in his schemes his he is not a hidden villain who sends out lackey’s or one to manipulates things from the shadows. Now that’s not to say your character has to walk across the screen and punch Batman to make him popular. Well loved characters from other franchises and mediums often show their badassery in their subtly, take Vary’s or Little Finger from the George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, both are characters who work primarily behind the scenes of the actual novels plying their trade. But when they show up on the page, They’re doing important or interesting things that give the sense that guys are competent, capable and action oriented.

The point for our writers to take home is that when you have your man on screen, he needs to be doing something, he needs to be proactive and he needs to be competent. Nobody want to read or watch a character sip tea and powder their face.


Sorry Vary’s you’ll have to do that before you show up

Originality: Be Different

A lot of things make Bane and interesting character, he’s smart, he’s capable, but I think what really set’s him apart was his voice, and the personality that came with it. He’s different from anything Nolan had created before, and most of that difference comes from his presentation, much like the Joker prior, people love Nolan’s because he’s unlike any Bane before him. He’s new, which in most media is hard to do, especially for character that had extensive use and large history before Nolan even thought about him. But Nolan was able to take and make him different. A great deal of this comes from both Hardy the actor who portrayed Bane and the writers who penned his lines as well as Nolan directing. But the truth of it is that they came together and made something old, new again. Thats a key component of writing, taking the things that you love and re-imagining them and writing them in your own style. So the next time your writing for your characters on page make sure they stand out from other characters in your story as as stand out among other characters period. So the next time you magnificent bastard shows up, as what makes him better or different then the ten thousand that have come before him, and if you can’t find a good reason then you may need to give him another once over.


When all of your characters are properly developed, then you have my permission to write

A good introduction, a good display of action and a great sense of originality are just a few of the things that make Bane an amazing character, but without them he would have been left inept and forgotten. So if your future efforts has a character reminiscent of Bane gracing the pages, make sure you know why he was such a success in the first place.