Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liking an Unlikable Character

The reason I even have a post today is that David reminded me. Thanks, David. I completely forgot. Last week I thought that once I finished all my edits, submissions, etc., I’d be back blogging full speed ahead. But writing isn’t the only aspect of my life. And the rest has caught up with me. Midterms for three students means that they’re not around to help with the dishes/laundry/etc. One of whom doesn’t have a driver’s license, so I have to hang out at the library during study sessions. (It’s where I’m writing this post.)

I also thought that after all my writing, blog posts would be easy. But it’s not. It feels like my brain hasn’t got a word left to say. And maybe it’s because I haven’t had a good laugh for a while outside of watching Castle—which reminds me to warn you to “beware the coming zombie apocalypse.”

Speaking of TV, TV shows and movies are sometimes very instructive to writers because they’re a microcosm of what works and what doesn’t in storytelling.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the show Castle, but I think it helpful to figure out what makes the show work. Obviously, the plotting on the show is good and the dialogue is witty. But it takes more than that to make Castle standout, especially with all the other detective shows that are on television. I think what makes the show so successful is that the plot and dialogue are blended together with interesting characters. And it’s especially instructive (at least to me) how the writers make me like a character that I wouldn’t find particularly sympathetic. Rick Castle has so many flaws...

He’s arrogant and actually says things like “I am ruggedly handsome.” But the writers couple that with the humility of listening and learning from his teenage daughter.

He’s irresponsible. The writers countered that with his dutiful parenting—both his daughter and his mother.

He’s a lothario. But they counter that with his true love for Kate. They twist this further by making his philandering his hamartia (fatal flaw) because it’s what keeps Kate from taking him seriously as a potential boyfriend/husband.

It takes a lot of skill to take a character trait and contradict it without having it feel fake. (I know, I’ve tried to make this work before. Not as successfully.)

Another thing that makes the characters work is the pairing of opposites. Rick is a writer—sedentary, solitary job, who also moonlights helping the police solve murders—active and aggressive. (You have to wonder when he actually finds the time to write...) Another set of opposites is the no-nonsense Kate paired with the creative, often silly Rick. Then these two are juxtaposed with Esposito and Ryan, grounded police officers who often serve as the “straight man” for the Kate/Rick comedy.

It’s these kinds of literary tricks of the trade that make the show so appealing. If you’ve watched the show, I’d love to know what else you’ve noticed that makes the show work.


  1. Afraid I never saw an episode so I cannot comment.

  2. So how did David remind you? Did he mention something about writing, or was it about blogging?

  3. "There are two kinds of people who sit around and thing about how to kill people, psychopaths and mystery writers, I'm the type that pays better."

  4. LOVE the Castle. And though his goody-two-shoes daughter often grates, I like her for some inexplicable reason. And the mom! Gotta love a narcissistic actress who loves her son.
    I'm taking notes, too, on what makes it work--I call it "character study" which helps allay the guilt for watching when I could be writing :-).