Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and the Quirky

It’s all about the characters. Think about the best stories you ever read. The setting can be beautiful, the plot thrilling or tame, but what draws the reader in, what keeps the reader turning the page is the depth of characters in a story. Consider Goldilocks and the Three bears…it’s not the breaking and entering that makes us wonder how the story will end, it is the confrontation between the gentle baby bear and the oblivious child who breaks chairs and pilfers pantries. Think about Sherlock Holmes. Not a traditional hero type; he’s bossy, occasionally rude, overtly conceited, an addict, and he is missing that romance gene altogether. Yet he is such a richly drawn character—so complex and layered, we simply must stick with him and with Dr. Watson to find out how he will save the day. And the importance of a well-drawn character is not limited to protagonists. Supporting characters can often be curiously intriguing, themselves. What would Dracula be without Renfield? That minor character mirrors the “everyman” who constantly questions his own existence and his relationship with a higher power. Granted, Ren’s behavior and outlook is a bit gloomy bordering on ghastly, but every thought he speaks, every fear he expresses, echoes in our minds and draws into the story like a moth to a flame. Why, even in Romeo and Juliette, while the main characters face the tragedy of youthful love, we find Tybalt, Mercutio, and even the friar to be magnificently engaging characters. We care about what they have to say, and so we continue to read the story even though we know that two feuding families will never break bread over a happy marriage. MacBeth would be nothing without the Weird Sisters! And in The Wizard of Oz, we all are spellbound by the Wicked Witch, and the man behind the curtain. We want to know what their personal stories are. Whenever somebody complains that they want to portray the main character, I wonder why? Often the best parts are the ones in the shadows, on the edge, or the ones who don’t even know they matter so much. In the musical 1776, the most poignant character is the messenger who recalls seeing his friends die on the battlefield. That young man’s moment in the spotlight is quiet, reverent, and heart-wrenching. In two minutes, he reveals what is at stake, not just for the Continental Congress, but for every man, woman, and child, on both sides of the fight. And we weep for him and for his pals. Character is how one sees the world, and how one is seen by it…the good guys, bad guys, and all the ones in between…

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