Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Big Bang Theory and character arcs


I posted awhile ago about something that Penny said on The Big Bang Theory that struck a nerve with me. As I continue to watch the show, unfortunately, she continues to annoy me. So, like any good over-emotional weirdo, I set out to figure out why.

Penny is a pretty blonde girl from Nebraska. She moved to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a famous actress; seven years later, she's still a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. There's nothing at all wrong with being pretty, blonde, an aspiring actress, or a waitress. But seven years after the show started, Penny was still a pretty blonde waitress with hopes of becoming a famous actress. There's also nothing at all wrong with shooting for the stars and working hard to fulfill your dreams and goals. But if your primary goal is to become famous, there's something wrong. And if your primary goal to be famous has gotten you nowhere seven years later, there's something really wrong.

So this whole thing got me thinking about characters, and what they have to do in order to sympathetic and likable. They don't necessarily have to undergo some big dramatic personality change, or even a major change at all. Some of the characters in my favorite books never undergo any major changes in their personalities. But the audience has to have a certain perception of them. And in order to make a character interesting, they have to be...well, interesting.

I'm not saying that every good fiction character has to be as weird as, say, Sheldon Cooper (my favorite Big Bang character). But you can't fit people and their personalities into a neat little box. I've mentioned the Abercrombie controversy a few times, and how the CEO got himself in major trouble by saying that he targeted the "cool kids." The controversy, of course, was mostly caused by his implication that plus sized individuals aren't "cool" enough to wear the company's clothes. But just targeting the cool kids is bad enough because guess what?

99.9 % of the world population is not cool.

Even the coolest, most normal-seeming people, have quirks, things that set them apart from the crowd and make them interesting. It's a writer's job to bring these quirks out. How many book blurbs start out with "such and such character is just a normal girl...except (fill in the blank)" Or "such and such character is just a normal girl...until (fill in the blank) happens" Interesting characters in interesting stories can't just be cardboard cutouts or stereotypes of what we think people should be. But if you're a writer, you'll probably be able to bring those qualities to the surface of even the most normal character.

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