What makes a character great? I'm sure this has been a question plenty asked by so many other people but still I keep coming back to it. This is something I've especially wondered as I watch All in the Family.
Okay, I'm a little late on the bandwagon by a couple decades but still, it's a show I very much enjoy now.
That show is the perfect example of awesome characters. How else could one show last for so long in the hearts and minds of so many people? The characters, of course. Their interactions are at the very heart of the show and are what make it tick. Any show can talk about issues like rape, abortion, cancer, politics, religion and even impotence but none can do so as wonderfully as All in the Family. The characters are real and three-dimensional, all with faults. No issue is presented in a black and white fashion although Archie's bigotry is made fun of quite a bit. I could rave on and on about the show but, alas, this post isn't about that.
Characters are at their best when they are real people. When their flaws match their virtues. Real characters are relatable and make people feel with the characters so much more. This should be obvious but, alas, it often doesn't appear to be. So many characters on TV and in literature are flat and stale, their actions safe and unoffensive but cliche and canned.
Vulnerability also makes for great characters. This, of course, goes back to making characters real. Writers who allow to have their characters to have vulnerable moments have better characters: they show off who their characters really are.
There are also the occasional subtle acts that show who the characters really are. Whether if they're incredibly nice or incredibly awful, that's what makes people feel in a way that's really good or really horribly towards them. But once people start feeling for characters, you know you've got a great character. Going out and trying obnoxiously to show a character for who they are just won't cut it.
Watching this awesome show only reminds me of that. It's gotten me really thinking as a writer. Before I write a story, I usually try to get a grasp on a character and I try to write a list of traits about them to make sure they're a balanced character. Then, of course, I try to think of ways to demonstrate that in a character. I can't even imagine how hard this is to do in a screenplay.
Once a character really does show him or herself to be great, though, it's so easy to latch onto them. Real characters become us or people that we know. And once you can get that level of relatability, you know you have something wonderful.