Lately I’ve been watching a lot of shows... which I know is what people say writers SHOULDN’T do. But when there are people who keep telling me, “You HAVE to watch [insert popular show title here]!” it does tend to get in the way sometimes.
So I tried giving this one show a shot. I’m not going to name names, but let’s just say that it pretends to focus on a female protagonist but wastes too much time on Generic McBlandpants White Male Lead #7638743.
McBlandpants is just that: Bland. He’s boring in every sense of the word, from his character, personality, to even the actor himself. I don’t like knocking on anyone’s appearance, since there’s nothing that the person can do about that, but... I blame the casting choice for picking someone so phenomenally dull to watch. Which is disappointing when the female lead is so much more interesting, but she’s constantly being pushed into a position where she is being told to “Wait here while I go ahead and do man stuff even though you’ve proven to be totally more capable than me!”
By the second episode, I continued to roll my eyes until they were flying out of my skull when he began to reveal his “tragic childhood backstory”. That’s when I just shut off the TV and went back to letting YouTube videos play while I got some work done.
Then it made me realize something: This show is not the first one to try and made a bland character seem more “interesting” by giving them a tragic childhood. Not by miles. Another one I watched recently did the same thing to another Generic McBlandpants White Male Lead #7638742, and it didn’t make me like that character any more, either.
I started to compare it to Criminal Minds (yes, another TV show. I am so sorry), because the characters are already interesting before you learn anything about where they came from. You can know nothing about their past, but they’re still fun to watch because of how the characters bounce off each other, and how the actors portray them. There could literally be an episode where they just hang out and make spaghetti and I’d still be engaged enough to watch the whole thing.
This is relevant to writing as well: A character’s history should only be as interesting as the character themselves. It’s fun to learn more about a character, but unless you’re actually invested in them, then telling us about how they watched their childhood friend drown in a river when they were only eight years old falls a little flat. I’m not going to care about a character simply because they had a hard life.
Give me a reason to actually like them. Don’t just copy and paste a wishy-washy sad yarn and think that’ll make them more relateable, because it won’t. I see people do this with rape trauma as well, but that’s a whole other rant altogether that I won’t go into now.
What I normally do, myself, is create a character first. After I’ve nailed down their personality, I work a story around them to help me better understand the way they think and feel. This helps me create a character whose life doesn’t revolve around their abusive parents, but grew or developed as a result of it.