Character is King

Like everyone else with a Netflix account, I am obsessed with Stranger Things. The Stephen King font and creepy opening music, the retro 80s vibe, that nerdy kid with no teeth....all of it hooked me.

Lit Reactor are also fans, as it happens, and Max Booth III has posted a great column today about what the show can teach us about characterization. Without giving away any spoilers, let me summarize a couple of the key points:

Think of exposition as narrative calories. You’re only allowed 2000 of them per book, so you better spread that shit out or you’re going to get hungry awfully fast.
— Max Booth III

1. Don't introduce a character with a massive exposition dump, unless you want to bore your reader. Reveal your characters gradually; allow the reader to meet them over time through the course of the story. Think about how we get to know people in our lives...bit by bit over time, through what they say and do and how they look and how others interact with them. Why should characters we meet on the page be any different?

2. Create nuanced characters. You can write a scene - as the writers of Stranger Things do - where two characters are in conflict but no one is really the bad guy. This, I think, is more often than not how conflict works in the real world. Both people act poorly. Or there is a misunderstanding and each person acts according to their narrow understanding of the situation. Heroes and villains are boring. Anti-heros are compelling. Villains who have endearing qualities, who can evoke even a bit of empathy, are more interesting.

3. Play around with stereotypes. Everyone expects the highschool Queen Bee to be a one-note bully. But what if she's not? What if she's deeply insecure about her dyslexia? Or is revealed to be heroic?

4. Character is King. Above plot and setting and scene, there is character first and foremost. Nothing makes me more perplexed than a character who acts in an inauthentic way; this is what happens when characters act in service to the plot. Ask yourself: is this really what this person would do, how they would feel? And be honest! Sometimes the plot as you originally envisioned it has to change. My advice: Create complex interesting characters and then follow where they lead.

If you've already watched the whole show, take a look at Lit Reactor's column. It's a thoughtful take on what works and doesn't in terms of characterization on the show.

And if you haven't watched the show yet....?!?