Monday, May 12, 2008

3 Good Men: Characterization

First of all, just a question to the universe: how am I supposed to get anything done now that I have a Wii? It is brilliant and fun!

So anyway....

This mother's day, we actually did something for my father: We watched the 1997 movie Tombstone. It's awesome. Afterwards, I was talking about it with my husband, and realized that my favorite character in the movie, Doc Holiday, reminded me of my favorite character in another TV series, Firefly, Captain Mal Reynolds. And they both reminded me of another character, Dr. Who.

Why do I love these characters so much? What do they have in common?

All three of them are men who do the right things for the right reasons...but they're not afraid of doing the right things for the right reasons in the wrong way. Example: Captain Mal's friend is being held hostage. The criminal has a gun to his friend's head, and says if Mal doesn't drop his weapon, he'll kill the girl. Without blinking, Mal draws his weapon and shoots the bad guy in the head. Quick as lightning. He knew the right thing to do was save his friend...and he did so without hesitation.

All three of these men are funny, but serious. Dr. Who is sometimes slapstick funny; all of the characters are clever and witty in conversation. But when things turn serious, they all have powerful, strong emotions. They easily shift from funny to serious. After a few one-liners in the last episode of Dr. Who, the Doctor turns to his companion, Donna, and clearly explains why he has to let thousands of people die--in order to save generations of people in the future--and how he has to live with that decision. Doc Holiday jokes with everyone, even his enemies, and has the ability to break up a fight with a few funny lines, but when his friend is in danger, he rises to the occasion and fights with him, despite the pain of his fatal illness, TB.

All three of these men are human: they try to be good, they're sometimes bad. They make mistakes. There's little wonder that all three of these characters have had episodes or scenes in which they make the wrong choice and are miserable about it. They create their own misery through pushing others way, making bad choices, or living with a guilty conscience.

This is what defines a good character. Even if these men are different--a Western hero, a space captain of the future, and a guy who's not even human--but all three of them have similar key traits that make them memorable characters. It's been years since I saw Tombstone, but I could still quote the line: "I'll be your huckleberry." I've seen Firefly and the accompanying movie Serenity many times, but I still gasp when Mal shoots the criminal, or laugh when Mal messes up his relationship. I'm continually on my seat when watching Dr. Who every Saturday on BBCA--I can't wait to see what dramatic situation he'll get in, and how he'll handle it was blase wit and heart-wrenching drama.

A good character is memorable. A good character is human. A good character makes us want to make our characters like him. I wish I knew Mal; I wish I was best friends with Doc, and I wish Dr. Who would land in my front yard and take me on an adventure. And I wish that when I write a character, I can make someone as wonderful, mysterious, witty, and complex as these.
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