Sudden, random thoughts on character

Last night I got to see an advance screening of the new Battlestar Galactica movie (long episode, whatever you want to call it). In a theater and everything! It was awesome on pretty much every level, much like the rest of the series. BSG in general almost always hits every beat it needs to–I’m disturbed when I need to be disturbed, inspired when I need to be (even the terrifying Admiral Cain’s speeches get the blood stirring, which is a testament to Michelle Forbes), terrified when I need to be, and so on.

BSG’s biggest strength is the characters. They’re believable, they’re terribly flawed but likable, and every one has a tragedy in their life beyond the obvious one that their civilization has been all but obliterated. People screw up as often as they succeed, and sometimes make bad choices and have to deal with the consequences. That may sound like a trifle, but in most serial storytelling, massive events are minimized in order to keep the status quo (and there are good reasons for it, but I won’t go into that).

The lesson to take from BSG? When you create your characters, make them interesting people first. Kara Thrace, Starbuck, is a stubborn, grouchy, alcoholic with serious authority issues stemming from a bad relationship with her mother. She works and plays hard, and can become deeply passionate about something once she focuses in on it. Into this unlikely figure is poured the responsibility of being either the savior or destroyer of humanity (that’s still up in the air). Oh, yeah, and she’s a crack fighter pilot and a woman, too. Those last items definitely inform the character and how she’s written, but they’re the most broad categories and least interesting.

Let’s compare her to the current Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman. Poor Jaime is a good example of someone who was written the opposite way. They started with a woman, then added a few cybernetic parts. She doesn’t have a terribly unique voice or background. They gave her what could be an interesting situation, having to raise a younger sister by herself, but we don’t really get to see how it’s affected her besides having to come up with awkward excuses for why she’s out so late. Her dialog, sadly, isn’t clever. She works for a shady and loosely defined government organization with limitless resources. Who doesn’t? The only thing about Jaime stand out from the crowd is her bionic implants, but those are primarily just used as plot devices. [Resists urge to make joke about implants in Hollywood–whew] So in the end, Jaime ends up coming off as just bland.

It’s interesting, because the two shows share a producer in Don Eick. You have to wonder what happened.

I guess my point is that when you really sit down to start fleshing out the character, you need to go straight for the most specific details you can. If your hero is the only person in three counties who can skin a potato in under an hour, start with that. There’s nothing wrong with starting with sex, but make sure there’s something interesting about the fact that your hero is a particular gender (or race, even), and it’s not just a flip of the coin.

I dunno, this is all pretty obvious, I guess. I think I’m mostly just working out for myself why “Bionic Woman” is such a failure when it should have been good. Carry on, nothing to see here.


5 thoughts on “Sudden, random thoughts on character”

  1. I think you have a good point about the bionic chic. It comes down to the writers. The producers can’t put in much, they just pay for it. Its the writers and in some parts the directors that flesh out the characters.
    I watch the show in the Friday night Sci-Fi lineup, but I keep hoping for more from her. But her biggest character flaw is that she isn’t a cold hearted b**ch like every other character in the show.

    In the last one, I got kind of Huh!! when she is off to whatever foreign country, and she leaves her sister home alone?? This is the girl who is supposed to be in trouble with the law. Remember first episode. But I guess the flight to Europe, work there and the flight back only took 1 day.

    I always think its funny how all these super spy shows, Bionic Woman, Alias, etc… The characters get from here to China in 2-3 hours, do their work and are home in time for dinner.


  2. I think you’d be surprised how much the producers actually do. There’s a reason a lot of them are out there on the picket lines with the writers right now. They generally don’t write the dialog and details of any given episode, but they definitely play a part in deciding the overall mood and direction of a series. Many go over re-writes as well. Of the Hollywood writers who are making the jump to comic books, most of them are television producers. With bionic Woman, it seems like they were aiming to combine Alias with Gilmore Girls, and just ended up doing neither very well.

    Yeah, they just kinda dropped the whole “computer crime” angle her sister had. As I understand it, they completely changed the sister –I think she was handicapped somehow in the original pilot.

    Travel time cracks me up. Heroes is really bad about that. People were all over the place, traveling from Las Vegas to New York to Odessa in the span of an episode.

  3. I think she was deaf in the original pilot — or so someone who went to Comicon and saw the first pilot told me.

    Good thoughts on the differences between characters. I have not been grooving on BW so far, and I think you’ve put your finger on why.

    They should have left her British… And we seriously need some storylines that are not all about bionics. Katee’s character would be a much more interesting main character, though not one you could always root for.

  4. At least in Heroes it was in the same country. When I traveled in my work, I would fly to Tulsa, work, fly to Mississippi and work and be home that night. So that is possible. If not extremely tiring. Bur when you start talking about crossing oceans, give me a break.

    But they are a bit loose on the travel. Maybe they just have Nathan fly them everywhere, or Hiro teleport them. That would work. 😉

  5. I envy you seeing that BSG episode on a big screen, but then, any of them would be great to see that way.

    I’m in agreement about the “fleshing out” of the character being the main reason a show is good or not. It can have a good story-line, but if the character isn’t believable, the story falls flat. BSG also limits which character the main focus is on in each episode, although there are several sub-plots and other characters being developed at the same time, you don’t feel confused and overwhelmed with all of them being thrown at you as the main focus of the story… I feel Heroes does that too much.

    I liked “Firefly” for the same reason I like BSG, the characters were rich, flawed and heroic at the same time. Agree it either makes or breaks a show for me.

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