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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
CREATING COMIC CHARACTERS
Okay, so you've got your story and you think it's pretty darn good. (I'm speaking in third person about myself) Now is the time to develop your characters in such a way that will render your story obsolete. (still speaking about myself) Okay, it's not that drastic, but it can be.
Creating characters, or should I say comic characters is both fun and difficult at the same time. We all want our characters to be multi-faceted and have depth, but I think that you cannot know your character that well until you start writing or boarding for him/her and start putting them into situations. Dexter from Dexter's Lab was a pretty well figured out character right from the start, but all of the nuances that we know and love about Dexter only came after many season's of fine tuning and experimenting. It's a good place to get to with your character but you need a solid foundation to start from. How? Well I found a great way to create comic characters that is not only fun, but easy enough to generate many comic characters and see which one fits best with your story without expelling to much time and energy.
There are many books on creating characters and I am sure there are one or two that are the most popular. I, on the other hand, use a book called THE COMIC TOOLBOX by John Vorhaus. It's a book on "how to be funny even if you're not." There are a lot of useful tips in there on writing jokes and comedy in general. There are even a few chapters on the basic steps of story telling in a screen play. The chapter I really love is the one on creating comic characters and it is the one I will be quoting and referencing here.
There are four basic elements that make up your comic character. They are:
1. Comic Perspective
COMIC PERSPECTIVE is simply the unique and quirky way your character looks at the world. Every thought, every idea and every reaction you character has needs to "filter" through their perspective. I like to call it looking at the world through your characters glasses. For example, Gracie Allen (of Burns and Allen fame) was INNOCENT. Everything she said and did was INNOCENT. One of the best examples of this is Jack Benny. His comic perspective (among others) is cheap. There is a skit where Jack is being held up at gunpoint by a robber. When the robber says "Your money or your life" Jack Benny answers "I'm thinking." It's Jack's cheap comic perspective that tells us that he might just value his money over his life and what makes it funny.
EXAGGERATION is taking your characters comic perspective and stretching it and pushing it so far out there that it far enough from our own perspectives in life that it starts to be funny. Recalling Gracie Allen, she was not only innocent she was the ultimate innocent. Dudley Moore as Arthur was not only a drunk he was the drunkest drunk. Jerry Lewis (used to be) the biggest bumbler the world ever knew. He not only acted bumblng he thought it. Don't be afraid to push your character to the extremes of their comic perspective.
FLAWS are a failing or negative quality in your comic character that opens up an emotional distance between them and the audience so that the audience can comfortably laugh at them with out feeling as though their pain is too close to home and therefore not funny. Sam Malone's flaw is egomania. Diane Chamber's flaw is snobbishness.Scrooge's flaw is greed. Dean Martin's flaw is drunkeness. Murphy Brown's flaw is stubborness. Flaws don't have to always be bad traits but taken to the exaggerated level can make them abnormal and thus distance them from the audience. Vorhaus' example of this is Charlie Brown's flaw is his trusting nature. Huh? How is that a flaw? The flaw is that he trusts TOO MUCH (more than you or I might) and thus let's us laugh every time Lucy pulls that football away.
HUMANITY, unlike flaws which separates the audience from the charcter, builds a bridge between us and the character so that we can care about them. The sure fire way to engage your audience and make them want to go on your hero's adventure is to get them to care about your character. You must arouse symapthy and empathy in your audience toward your hero. You are supposed to like the hero and the hero is supposed to be like you. If that happen, you engage emotionally and will gladly undertake his/her journey with them. If you want your character to have the legs to be consistantly funny through the life of your story, your audience must feel a part of the experience.
Building your chracter off of these basic elements will give you a great starting place. In some instances this might be enough. But don't be afraid to continue molding and fine tuning your character. I only touched the surface of the basic ideas brought forth in The Comic Toolbox. If you are interested in reading about this technique (or tool) further, I really recommend going out and buying this book.