Or, how NCIS taught me more about characters.
I must admit that I did absolutely little today. That is, I ended up lying around watching TV. I suppose I needed to; as some of you know, I am recovering from surgery, so I probably needed a day on the ol’ butt to do not much of anything. Not that you should use surgery as an excuse to not to nothing. I’m a big fan of taking a nothing day for yourself every chance you get, because we are all way too busy and we need some down time. So yes, take a mental health day for yourselves now and again.
At any rate, I ended up watching re-runs of NCIS on USA. Admittedly, I haven’t really watched the show in the past; it’s not one I’ve followed but it occurred to me, after about the 6th episode today, that I was actually using it to write. For those of you who write, you probably know what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, writers are nuckin’ futs, and even if they’re not actually sitting down to hammer something out on their laptops/desktops/iPads, parts of their brains are always off in writer la-la land, and they’re always mulling a story or two or three or seventeen.
Anyway, I decided that I rather liked the characters on NCIS, and I liked the intriguing mix. The wide-eyed goth girl science geek; the Ferris Bueller sidekick dude; the wisecracking but insecure guy; the Israeli bad-ass working toward citizenship; the restrained and reserved boss-man; the charming and gentlemanly ME guy. Whoever thought these characters up did a great job of bringing some seriously disparate personalities together, creating narratives, and making it work (for the most part) in terms of plot arcs and dialogue.
I’m not suggesting the police procedure is by the book, or that the show doesn’t take creative liberties for the sake of pacing. It does. What’s cool about it, I think, are the characters, their interaction, and the snappy dialogue.
Characters, I think, can be the core of a book (I’m not suggesting they’re the ONLY core, or the ONLY way to write a book). Good characters — in the sense of well-written, realistic, quirky — can carry a plot, can drive a plot arc, can direct subplots, and can support a book’s infrastructure. Good characterization is crucial to plot development. If you don’t have likable or even interesting characters (even evil characters can be written in such a way that a reader is interested in them), chances are, your story isn’t going to get very far with readers.
I’ll leave you here with fab spec fic author C.J. Cherryh’s 1996 piece on characterization. (yes, my friends, things actually happened before 2000. I know. It’s hard to believe.) Oh, and for those of you who are not familiar with C.J. Cherryh‘s work, please remedy that situation immediately. She’s the winner of 4 Hugos, and is one of the most best-selling authors in sci fi. That is some awesome-sauce.
All rightie. And as I’m signing off, I’m realizing that USA touts itself as the “characters welcome” network. Hmmmm…
Happy reading, happy writing!