By Michelle Andreani
For the past week or so, my nights have been filled with lies, bazillions of dollars, and ssssssssecrets. Par for the course, you might think, for a bon vivant such as myself. 😉
But not exactly. What I’ve really been doing, in preparation for the premiere on Sunday (!!!), is powering through the first season of Revenge on Netflix. And HOLY MOLY. What took me so long?????? (Actually, this was the plan since I started losing track of the show a few episodes in. I’d just plug my ears to spoilers until I could binge-watch the entire thing, and then tweet my observations to people who were already like, three months OVER IT.)
I’m now up to episode 19 and I am on board, people. I am a passenger on the Revenge Express. And as wrapped up as I’ve been, I’ll admit there are some scenes where I find my mind wandering. It’s really no secret why: I just find some characters more compelling than others. Which, of course, got me thinking about writing.
It’s something I often find the hardest to pin down when I write: What, exactly, my character wants. And then not only does my character have to want something, something that will propel her (and in turn, the plot) through the novel, she has to need something, too. And sometimes those Wants and Needs are totally different. Add to that, a character has to be dimensional, layered. She can’t just be the nerd, or the hipster, or the jock. She’s not just good or bad. She should be more. Ugh. She’s has to be so many things! It’s like I have to build my own human or something.
But, in fairness, no one wants to read about a one-dimensional stagnant bore. Or watch one.
Whiiiiich brings me back to Revenge. Those compelling characters I was talking about? They’ve got some killer (no pun intended) Wants, or at the very least, a serious agenda. They Handle. Their. Business, and they’ve got dimension to spare. The other guys, the ones I have to force myself to pay attention to, their Wants and Needs are just as valid, for sure. But they’re definitely not as engaging because something about them just falls flat.
And I brought examples! *clears throat*
Revenge: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh
Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (The Good, mostly): The girl has two identities, the end.
No, really! She’s got agenda like crazy and a most solid Want: to avenge her father’s false imprisonment and death. COME ON. Even still, she’s not a soulless, vengeance machine; she’s a girl who grew up feeling abandoned, betrayed, and in full-on survival mode. And that can get to a girl! So, once in a while, you can see the cracks forming in Emily’s veneer, but never enough to break her. Emily is IN THIS, guys. And we want her to be. We like her! even if she could kill us with a raise of her eyebrow. And a heroine like that, tough and smart and compassionate and tortured, is one I’ll pull for all the time, onscreen or in a book. Because she’s real, even if her story isn’t. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be Emily Thorne (just less revenge-y)?
Victoria Grayson (The Bad, sorta): Sometimes you hate her, sometimes you . . . not-so-much hate her. But you’re never bored when Victoria’s on TV, especially when she’s in her fancy, bizness-making, written-on chair. Right? OMG that chair! Anyway. Victoria’s cold and sharp, and you never know what she’s got up her blouse sleeve. You definitely can’t trust her as far as you can throw her (which would probably be FAR because lady is teeny!). Or can you? Victoria’s done her fair share of evil deeds, but it appears that she’s done them for, arguably, a noble reason: to protect her children. She’s a woman with pure love for her kids, but will twist that love by doing contemptible things to keep them comfortable. So what if loyalty sometimes means paying off your daughter’s boyfriend to get him to scram? That is conflict, and there’s something about a truly conflicted character that keeps me watching and turning the page.
Daniel Grayson (The Meh, sorry): Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt to look at him, amiright? And okay, he probably can’t find the fuse box in Grayson Manor, but that doesn’t make his good-guy-in-progress deal any less honorable. Is that enough for him, though? I mean, he complains about his parents a bunch, about how he wants to crawl out from the Grayson shadow. So, you know, good on him! But his whining never seems to form into a definitive plan, and I’m left feeling . . . uninterested in his character arc. Remember when you-know-what happened and Daniel got sent you-know-where? I felt an overwhelming sense of meh. Which is terrible! I should have felt very much the opposite, but I just couldn’t muster it. And is there anything worse than a character you’re ambivalent about? Gross! (Fingers crossed that Daniel suddenly becomes interesting in the last few episodes!)
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is we all want characters who ring true. We want to cheer their successes and stress over their defeats, or vice versa, depending. In the end, we just want to care. And as writers creating these characters, we have to work for that. We have to build our own humans.
Which is to say, everyone will always love the dog, no matter what. 😉