Friday, April 8, 2011
For the letter G, I received 50 suggestions. Random.org selected number 11: gremlins.
Brain child of Chris Columbus, working with Steven Spielberg, this film stole my heart as a kid. It was the perfect combination of cute/lovable and scary. It made want my very own plush Gizmo doll (though I never got one). In terms of marketing, it held its own in a time of ET action figures and the dwindling of Star Wars sales.
Okay, so enough waxing on with capitalist nostalgia. What's my point?
What's one reason why Gremlins became so successful? It's in the details of the character. In a sweeping generalization, I'm going to assume that we all remember Gizmo and the Dr. Hyde monsters they turn into when you feed them too late or expose them to bright light. But we don't remember the humans. Or at least I don't. (Granted I was pretty young.) Why? The humans were a means of bringing out fuzzy friends and their evil scaly twins to life, but the movie (and subsequent sequels) wasn't about the humans.
Let's examine Gizmo for a moment. Furry and adorable, it's hard not to instantly love this tiny creature. So, we've got empathy. Add in the danger of the already scaly midnight snackers, plus the fear that Gizmo might accidentally munch on something himself, get wet (again), or see too much light, and you've got continual rising tension and a character that everyone can identify with.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it helps to have the financial backing of Spielberg and Warner Bros, too....
Anyway, I'm not saying we should all run out and write about tiny, fluffy mammals, but there are a few things to learned regarding characters here.
First, details. Give your character quirks and fears, like Superman with his Kryptonite. Somehow let us know that (random character) Bill used to go by Will, but changed his name after finally moving out of his grandmother's abusive house, since she always called him Willy.
But most importantly, make the reader LIKE the character first. If the reader doesn't care, it's an instant FAIL.
Next, generate conflict. (Bill's grandmother gets sick and can no longer take care of herself, and Bill can't afford to put her in a nursing home). Put them in danger (spill some water and feed the little buggers after midnight).
Finally, give them the opportunity to fail. Nothing spells tension like the thought of your character losing everything. (Bill takes too many days off work to care for Granny, and ends up losing his job. His wife moves in with her mother because she can't stand Granny, either. The house gets repossessed. Does he take care of himself first or Granny?)
How do you make your characters likable? And how do you torture them afterward? :)
PS--Today I'm taking suggestions for K. Have some? Leave them below.