Thursday, September 22, 2011


What’s the first thing you do when creating a new character? Choose a name? Identify certain traits? Physically describe him or her?

I read somewhere that characterization never stops through the course of the novel. Our fictional characters come alive for us and our readers through our description and their reactions to other characters—as well as how other characters react to them. Our characters are supposed to change during the course of the book—grow, learn something, get their commuppance if they’re bad guys.
TV sitcoms are great for teaching us how to write good dialogue and characterization. I can remember an editor telling me she wanted dialogue like Maddie and David in Moonlighting.   If you’re not familiar: Moonlighting  aired from March 3, 1985 to   May 14, 1989—66 episodes  not counting the pilot that’s split into two episodes. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd were private detectives and boy, did they clash. According to Wikepedia, Moonlighting is considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy-drama, or "dramedy", emerging as a distinct television genre. Recently, I tried to watch some Moonlighting. I’m afraid I found their banter more annoying than I did when I was in my thirties.  So on to another TV show that speaks to my type of characters: FridayNight Lights -- The trials and tribulations of small town Texas football players, their friends, family, and coaching staff. 
This year Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series and Jason Katims took an award for outstanding writer in a drama series. Both were well-deserved.
In each episode, writer Jason Katims shows us everything we need to learn and know about writing our novels—not only how to pull together strong, three dimensional characters but how to create/make us love and hate the same character; how to show the good and bad side of characters; how to create empathy and tears.  He gave all the characters in Friday Night Lights universal qualities, emotions, and motivations. If I didn’t say that Friday Night Lights (so much more than a TV show about football) didn’t put fear in every parent’s heart, I’d be wrong.  Aside from fantastic writing, casting played a huge part in Friday Night Lights. In my mind, no one—absolutely NO ONE—could have played Coach Taylor except Kyle Chandler. No one else could have made those wonderful facial expressions. The actors knew their characters so well that we fans knew the moment a character got OUT OF character. Successfully, every character in Friday Night Lights had his own integrity—and it worked. It was believable. Each character earned his happy ending—though for some, I question whether the ending is truly happy. FNL characters will stay in our minds and in our hearts for a very long time.

It has been said that Friday Night Lights had a fanatical following. Yeah—and I was one of those fanatics. I haven’t been so involved in a series since the early years of Dallas. I watched and listend with my heart pounding and a knot in my gut, wondering who was going to screw up, who was going to ruin his life forever, who was going to make an unfixable mistake.

Friday Night Lights is a character study for writers. Wipe your calendar clean and settle down to learn something. There are only 76 episodes and each one is worth your hour.

 Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I probably would have liked Friday Night lights. I liked the few episodes I saw, but generally Lana doesn't like football type stories and I'm not a big enough fan to argue with her over it.