Wednesday, April 19, 2006

unlikable characters

Jenny over at The Blackwing Diaries makes an excellent point about what passes for character development in far too many stories (be they prose, comics, TV, or cinema): the overcoming of the pointless character flaw. Somewhere along the line this notion that characters need to overcome a shallow flaw by the end of the story crept in, and it almost never works. I remember as a young kid watching Back to the Future II in the theater, and finding it jarring when Marty McFly suddenly had a problem with someone suggesting he was "chicken" -- a straw-man flaw he overcame by the end of the final film.

Here's Jenny:

But the main problem was a very obvious and basic one: the character as presented in the story was unlikeable. He was selfish, rude--and selfishly rude, and a dozen other tiresome variations on selfish and rude. Apparently it was more important to the writers that we follow the adventures of a truly unpleasant character, supposedly identifying with him for 80 minutes, just so his story arc could have him redeemed at the end.

I don't know about you, but when I watch an animated film, especially one with rich potential for fun and high spirits and comedy, I don't want to be forced to either sit through a therapy session with a mediocre analyst, nor do I want to spend most of that time with a jerk. That doesn't mean that a character has to be perfect, or perfectly happy, or have no troubles. But there's been a trend in all types of film to insist that the character can't just face a conflict, he or she has to be terribly flawed and conflicted himself. It used to denote depth in a character. It's become a formula and it's an approach that needs to be handled with incredible finesse to work. Think that happens regularly?


Blogger Jenny said...

Hi--Thanks for the flattering link/quote! I'm humbled. : )

Great note about "BTTF II"; I'd completely forgotten that--but there you are, another great example--and you noticed it at--what? 10 years old? I'm telling you, the audience is way ahead of "Hollywood", for the most part. But at least that film you cite had plenty of eye candy and fun, action, etc.--the reason it was a hit, and that(I'm guessing)you enjoyed it. It didn't need the "flaw" business imposed on it at all.

4/19/2006 11:33 AM  
Blogger Robert Burke Richardson said...

^Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jenny, and thanks also for crystalizing the whole imposed character flaw thing, which is something I'd been struggling to put my finger on, well, probably since Back 2 the Future II, at least!

4/19/2006 3:14 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home