For the past three days, I’ve been focusing on a personal project: A fun horror crime procedural with an eccentric cast of nutjobs. The idea has been cooking for well over a year now, and this is the first time I’ve felt confident enough to tackle it with all the zeal it deserves. I’m talking about characters.
You can dream up the most intriguing plots, deliver the most scintillating dialogue, and wrap it up in all the cutting edge special-effects you could hope for. If your characters aren’t interesting and compelling, no one’s going to give a shit. They have to want things, they have to care about things, and we have to make them into people we would care about. If we fail in that, then the rest just doesn’t matter.
In his book, Daniel P. Calvisi talks a lot about character, and the different roles they can fill. Specifically, he mentions the Shadow: a supporting character for the protagonist that represents the polar opposite of our hero. The crazy thing is, they can still be on the same side, even want the same things.
In this case, I’m referring to a police detective that first encounters our would-be amateur sleuths. I spent an hour or three developing a scene where she visits him at his home, asks questions, gets her answers, and she just gradually gets madder and madder with him the whole time.
It wasn’t until I stepped away from the scene that I understood why she was getting so angry. It’s because she’s controlling, and she needs to steer the conversation herself. That’s a great asset when you’re a cop interrogating a perp.
But throughout the whole scene, the title character was navigating the conversation where he wanted it to go. He even volunteers to go to her precinct so she’ll have the ‘home-court advantage’. He doesn’t mean to patronize her, he’s actively trying to help her feel comfortable because he can tell she’s getting pissed off. Naturally, she finds this infuriating.
I cannot describe the specific delight in discovering that a character has traits you did not intend for them, yet are completely in line with their personality. She’s controlling. I get it. I wish I’d thought of it earlier.
Just wanted to share a neat experience.