Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Carbs and Characterization
When I was a kid, there was a short period of time when my mom worked nights. She would always be there when we got home from school, waiting to hear all about the details of the day. After that, she’d try for a few hours of shut eye before heading over to the hospital
I was in fifth grade at the time and wanted to help out. Dad would be getting home from work by 5:30, mom would be heading off to work about a half hour later. The least I could do was chip in with dinner.

And so I did.

I might have only been ten years old, but let me tell you my culinary skills were far beyond my age. Plus, at the ripe age of seven, my sister was a very able assistant. Which is how we ended up with a beautiful meal of rice, egg noodles and biscuits.

In case you’re worried about the meal consisting only of carbs and butter, fear not! I slathered the rice in barbeque sauce. So….you know…that’s different.

It is a testament to parental love that both mom and dad ate what we put on the table. And that they bothered with coming up with a story about how my dad like to unwind after work by making dinner, rather than just telling us this was the most ridiculous meal imaginable.

So, I walked away, patting my back, confident that I had helped out. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the meal might not have been delicious to anyone over a decade old.

The reason is, of course, clear. People like variety. More than that they need it. In both their nutritional content and more importantly (in my mind) their stories. Some folks, myself included, may enjoy hearing the same story more than once. But no one wants it to be the only story we ever hear. We don’t want to watch shows or movies where every character is a clone of the other. Unless it’s a show specifically about clones, but, even then, I’d expect differing personalities to emerge eventually. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

If Harry, Ron and Hermione had all been fish-out-of-water heroes or comic relief with an inferiority complex or brainy know-it-alls, it wouldn’t have been as interesting. But combine the three and you get one of the most famous literary (and then movie) trios in the world.

Because people love variety.

One of the best ways I’ve ever seen this handled on screen was in Firefly. Not only was each member of that crew immediately distinguishable from all the others, but from the word go, each of those relationships was complicated. Sure, as the episodes progressed, the audience learned more little bits about each character – sometimes just enough to have you screaming, “Where did you come from, Shepherd???” – but from the opening episode watchers were given enough to provide solid descriptions of each character.

Differences complement each other. If there are two characters who are almost identical personality-wise in a story, odds are one of them is unnecessary.

After all, one carb covered in butter is generally enough for a meal.


  1. Okay, now I want a biscuit slathered with butter. And jelly. :)

    Good points about character-variety. I find the same true with point of view - if the points of view are similar and basically telling the reader the same thing, then one of them probably needs to go.

    1. Absolutely. And that biscuit sounds really good.

  2. barbecue sauce and rice, i think i may have tried that combo after a night of drinks
    i think it was delicious but then again i probably would've eaten a rotten banana in that state...

  3. Replies
    1. Problem solved. Because avocado is delicious.

  4. Thoughtful post about characterization. I think a good writing understands this inherently and only invites new characters who bring something new and interesting to their story.

    New follower via the A2Z. (Currently #147)

    1. Absolutely. It's one of the reasons why I get excited about new characters being introduced in book or TV series. Good or bad, it means things are going to change, which tends to be pretty interesting.

      Thanks for following!

  5. Great points!

    One day I've got to watch Firefly. I've heard so many good things about the show.

  6. That reminds me of my favorite meal as a kid: noodles and ketchup. I still have it on occasion. Yum.

    1. Nostalgic meals are always fantastic. =)