Monday, 12 October 2009

Lovable characters

There are very few fictional characters I love. Films rarely have enough maneuverability to make you really love them but TV shows have no excuse. That's not to say you should love every character, but more that you should have an emotional connection to at least one of them.

This being me (dedicated Whedonite), I do love characters. And they're created by Mr Joss Whedon.

Needless to say....SPOILER ALERT for 'Buffy', 'Angel' and 'Firefly'.

Here's a list of the characters I love and why:

MALCOLM REYNOLDS - 'Firefly', 'Serenity'
What I love about Mal is his role on Serenity. He's the father figure. He looks out for everyone, always protecting and saving them. As a child, you see your father as almost god-like. Your dad can do anything because...he's your dad! Mal is in some way like that but at the same time, I also see him as the father you come to know as you grow older. Fathers are not god-like, they're not indestructible. That's what Mal is.

I do see Mal as a father. He always does whatever it takes to protect his family, even if that means handing himself in to the Alliance like in Safe. In the same episode, Mal rescues Simon and River. Simon asks why he did it - why put himself and the rest of the crew at risk to save them? The answer - "You're on my crew."

We join Serenity as Simon does. So we almost feel the same as him. In Mal's acceptance and welcoming of Simon, we are welcomed into the warm, loving home of 'Firefly'.

RIVER - 'Firefly', 'Serenity'
I love River as a sister. Through Simon's love for her and his unconditional protection, we can see a truly powerful sibling bond. He does whatever it takes to keep her safe, having given up his entire life to find her. As River says: "You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It's hard for you."

It is hard for Simon but it doesn't matter. He's willing to do anything in the world for his sister. I'd do the same for mine.

I originally fell in love with Buffy because she was cool, funny, ass-kicking and (most importantly at the time) hot! She was my first TV crush. The series developed, as did her character. Buffy grew from a witty teen to an equally witty woman. What I began to notice about Buffy is that she's truly incredible. This really hit me at the end of season 5, when she died saving the world. Of course, she wasn't just dying for the world, she was dying for her sister.

For me the ultimate strength of Buffy comes in the season 6 episode Dead Things. Here, Buffy has been expelled from heaven, ripped out by her friends. She has no money. She's working at a shitty job for pittance. She's desperately trying to take care of her younger sister who is struggling at school. She's having a very violent relationship with a vampire she hates. On top of all that, she's saving the world on a weekly basis. In this episode, she believes she has killed a girl. One young woman who got caught in the crossfire.

As Spike says, "And how many people are alive because of you? How many have you saved? One dead girl doesn't tip the scale!"

99% of people would agree. But not Buffy. Even with all this pressure and the excuses, Buffy is still determined to turn herself into the cops and face the consequences of her action. Now that's a powerful woman!

How I truly feel about Buffy can be summed up by Spike in season 7's Touched:
I love what you are, what you do, how you try... I've seen your kindness, and your strength, I've seen the best and the worst of you and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy.

SPIKE - 'BtVS', 'Angel'
I've already talked about Spike and anyone who knows me knows I think he's awesome! Spike is the sort of guy I could spend hours drinking with in a bar (in a purely friendship way, I might add). He first came into 'Buffy' as a recurring villain. He soon became a morally ambiguous good guy. Then he earned his soul.

Spike lives for the fight. Whenever there's a huge battle brewing, he'll always be there. And more importantly, he always gets back up. That's why I'd always back Spike in a fight - no matter how many times you knock him down, he just gets right back up and throws another punch.

ANGEL - 'BtVS', 'Angel'
Angel didn't really come out of his shell until he moved to LA. Here he was forced to work out his purpose in the world. At a glance, one might assume his mission or purpose was to save it. Wrong!

Angel's mission was never to save the world - that's just something that happened in the process of his true mission - fight the good fight.

Angel is champion and no matter what, he'll always be there to save you. That doesn't mean he'll succeed, but he'll try. He went to some very dark places - letting a bunch of humans be massacred by vampires wasn't the height of his heroism.

It's hard to explain why I love Angel. The best way would be to draw on a few quotes and you can see for yourself.

Here, Knox is responsible for the death of Fred. I wouldn't just let him die, I'd kill him myself (something that Wesley agrees with). But Angel has this to say to Illyria:
You're about as low as it gets, Knox. But you're a part of humanity. That isn't always pretty, but it's a hell of a lot better than what came before. And if it comes down to a choice between you and him... then, yes. I would fight for his life just like any other human's, because that's what people do.
Here, Angel is addressing his team. Do they dare fight one last battle and risk everything?
This isn't a "keep fighting the good fight" kind of deal. Let's be clear. I'm talking about killing every... single... member... of the Black Thorn. We don't walk away from that.
We do this, the senior partners will rain their full wrath. They'll make an example of us. I'm talking full-on hell, not the basic fire-and-brimstone kind that we're used to.
Ten to one, we're gone when the smoke clears. They will do everything in their power to destroy us. So... I need you to be sure. Power endures. We can't bring down the Senior Partners, but for one bright shiny moment we can show them that they don't own us. You need to decide for yourselves if that's worth dying for. I can't order you to do this. Can't do it without you. So we'll vote... as a team. Think about what I'm asking you to do. Think about what I'm asking you to give.
Angel's dedication to the good fight always comes to the surface. He rallies the entire team. They know they're going to die. The fight they're about to start won't make much difference. It won't save lives. It won't save the world. But it will make a point and maybe rally other champions to the fight.

Angel and the team go out on a battle-cry with one very simple message - keep fighting.

Tell me you don't love someone like that!


Anonymous said...

What exactly can a writer do to make a character lovable? In your post you say, and illustrate, a few techniques: Show the character loving others. Show others loving the character. Make the character a real die-hard and energetic, like Angel. Let the character say intelligent and noble things, and make her actions match her words.

So these heroic people are heroic through and through. What are your other ideas about how, specifically, a writer can best make a character lovable?

Neil said...

Hmm...a great question, Anon!

Not sure I know how to answer it but I'll give it a shot (maybe more detailed in another post).

I think the most important thing to remember is that to love a character, you don't have to like them. A great character isn't always a good person.

Yes the ones I listed are pretty much good, but I also love the character of Dexter (in the show 'Dexter'). I think he's amazing, but this is a guy who kills people in very ambiguous ways.

A character has to have flaws. They say we like people for their qualities but love them for their vices. If a person is good through and through, we may like them, but something just isn't there. By seeing their flaws, we are able to identify with them to some degree - we are able to see that they are people - real people with real qualities and flaws.

We don't always have to love their actions (I've hated the actions of some characters) but what we need to be able to do is sympathise with their decisions. I use "sympathise" here not as a "I feel sorry for you" kind of think, but a way if identifying.

Sympathy is essential for every story and character. At one point, Spike tried to rape Buffy. It's an irredeemable act. But the thing is - I understand why he chose to do it. That's not to say I agreed with his decision, but it was his way to reaching out - he would do anything to make things the way they were.

If you can make the audience identify with a character and his decisions, you're half way there, i think.

So you can show people liking him, but you can also show people hating him.

Two great ways to get people to identify with a character:

Save the Cat - make your 'hero' do something likable (like save a cat).
Take the Shit - put them through torture at their intro. In the Matrix, Neo gets so much stick from his boss - we've all been in similar situations - we empathise with him at that moment and consequently identify with him.

Hopefully there's something above that can answer your question. But the short answer is - not a clue! If you make people identify with the character (on some level) they may not say they "love" them but they would no doubt agree they're amazing characters (Hannibal Lecter et al)

Like I said - I might try and get to the bottom of this and post another post about it. Best of luck :)