What Can We Learn From Our Favorite Characters?

If I were to pick a show you like and ask who your favorite character is, you would give me a name. If I were to pick five shows and ask for a favorite character across those five, would the favorite be the same? What if you picked a few favorites across all shows and movies?

Would the original fav make the list? And would those characters have commonalities?

The husband and I have a DVR and TV service that has an On Demand option. The result of this is while we have access to hundreds (maybe thousands) of channels and shows, we find ourselves watching pre-recorded favorites.

One of these is NCIS. The original one, not the spinoffs with all the melodrama and overacting. I’ve watched it for years, and one of the perks of taking an extended TV hiatus while I was constructing novels is I have a whole backlog of new-to-me episodes. So I’ve been watching several episodes per week.

It struck me during one episode why I love the show: the characters are awesome. One character, specifically, keeps me tuning in. 

 

photo credit: CBS Broadcasting

 
Does anyone else adore Abby? She’s goth. She’s wicked smart. She’s socially awkward. She carries a black lace parasol when she leaves the lab.

It took me a while to figure out the funky music that plays in the lab is her music, not just background for cinematic ambience. How cool is that?

A few nights ago, Men In Black 3 was on. We enjoy that one because of the supposedly 29-year-old edition of K, but for me, a different character stands out.

 

photo credit: Wikia.com

 
Whenever Griffin’s not on screen, I wish he were on screen. He has the gift of seeing infinite possibilities, often minor differences that result in major outcome changes. He has the air of a human savant, which is why I think I’m drawn to him. He speaks quickly about the different possible outcomes, taking us on a journey as he does so.

Of course, being a nerd, one of my favs appears in Star Trek. The new Star Trek movies, to be precise.

 

photo credit: StarTrek.com

 
No, not the crusty alien sidekick. Scotty.

I don’t think the circumstances under which we first met this Scotty could have been more perfect. Isolated on a frozen hell of a planet because he accidentally lost a professor’s beagle in a warp experiment. Oops.

Of course, the accent doesn’t hurt. Nor does the sidekick. He’s the brains of the operation – in a world where Spock is present. If not for Scotty, the Enterprise wouldn’t last long (he even says so: “One day I’ve been off this ship! One! Day!”) 

So what can my favorite characters teach me?

They’re all brilliant in their own way. They’re quirky. They break stereotype. They’re memorable. And they’re secondary.

Did you notice that? None of my favs are the main character. Sure, I love DiNozzo (or Gibbs), J, and Kirk too, but they don’t stand out as much for me. They aren’t the reasons I return to those shows and movies. 

I guess I root for the supporting rolls, which is something I ought to keep in mind when constructing my own stories.

What about you? Who are your top three (or one or two) favorite characters?

9 thoughts on “What Can We Learn From Our Favorite Characters?

  1. Secondary characters are icing on the cake, and as such, they’re great – as long as there’s cake. Icing by itself is fun but gets old fast.

    Snoopy from Peanuts
    Fonzie from Happy Days
    Sonny from The Godfather
    Joe Pesci’s Character from Goodfellas
    Sam in Poggibonsi
    The list of great secondary characters goes on and on.

    Great secondary characters are great because of the contrast they offer from the more grounded main character, but without the main, they’re too much. They’d go flying off like untethered balloons.

    When Peanuts became all about Snoopy in the 1970’s, it became even more wildly popular than it was before, but also a lot less interesting. Happy Days jumped the shark when Fonzie had to be everything all the time.

    Sonny was always ready to fly off the handle in The Godfather and it got him shot in the causeway. Joe Pesci became absolutely coupled with his character in Goodfellas, but if it was all Joe all the time, we’d have… Al Pacino in Scarface.

    Sam, of course, steals every story she’s in. She’s the very definition of letting your secondary characters think the story’s all about them.

    Balance. The goofy person is great once a week. We like a visit. Saddle us with that 24/7 and we’re asking for an eviction notice.

    You once mentioned diamonds and water. You want what you like but you like it more when you’re deprived of it.

    Letting our secondary characters remain scarce mean they remain precious. And let’s face it, precious is good.

    So what do my five favorite shows say about me? I’m not even sure what my five favorite shows are. Let’s check the DVR and see what I have ranked number one to be recorded.

    Freaking Dora the Explorer? Who’s been playing with this?

    Okay, we have Modern Family at #1. From there, although they’re all funny, I’d pick the mom, Claire. Just cos she’s hot. They’re all good.

    Next the DVR says #2 is Big Bang Theory. I like Penny on that show. She’s funny. And she’s hot. The nerd guys on that show drive me freaking nuts, especially the robotic guy that’s the Fonzie- Snoopy character. The show’s a lot less funny these days than it was a few years ago.

    DVR says #3 Survivor. I hate Jeff Probst. Maybe they could do a show without him, I’d like that. But I usually end up rooting for whichever girl looks best in a bikini.

    #4 Mythbusters, but I quit watching that after Kari stopped appearing. She was hot.

    I’m not sure we need to continue with this. There’s obviously no pattern.

    What was the original question again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL. Don’t lie. You watch Dora when no one’s around.
      I was *this close* to putting Sheldon on my list, but I only allowed myself three, and honestly his character has become a bit canned lately. Possibly cliche. Definitely an archetype to wade around carefully when writing an emotionless genius. I think that’s why he didn’t make the cut.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Excellent point. Cliche. You can see the jokes coming and the punch lines are predictable. Three years ago that wasn’t the case. And that’s the risk we run when we move the secondary character too much to the forefront. It takes a lot of effort to keep topping yourself and being so unique, and when they are center stage it is nearly impossible.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Y’know, I think quirky secondary characters tend to stand out a little more to us. Traits that would be irritating in somebody with more screen/page time are endearing in someone who isn’t there quite as much, and we get so used to the main characters (esp. in a series, like MIB,) that we don’t notice their quirks any more.

    Sherlock’s super quirky, but you get used to his quirkiness, and you get to expect it. If Sherlock isn’t sawing away at the violin in Baker Street, or doing drugs out of boredom, you get disappointed. His quirkiness, because of our familiarity with him, has become commonplace and expected. (Gotta say, I LOVE what they did with Moriarty in the new Sherlock show. I know he’s gone at Reichenbach Falls in the book, but a girl can dream he returns. There’s a secondary character love story for you.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought of another quirky MC to play with Sherlock. Jack Sparrow, anyone? Though one could argue that story is really about Will Turner…
      Makes sense that less screen time = more quirkiness allowed. Makes me wonder about the upcoming Finding Dory movie.

      Like

  3. I love quirky supporting role characters too. Is there anyone who doesn’t love Jack and Karen more than Will and Grace? One of my favorite movies of all time was 12 Monkeys. While Bruce Willis plays the big cheese, Brad Pitt’s character stole the show. And, not because he played the typical hunky (boring) guy, because he was quirky and weird, and totally believable. Using the supporting cast as a contrast can be a great mechanism for getting to know your leads. They can also offer a great comedic relief when your story is desperate need of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I also adore Abby…so much so that I researched her personal rise to stardom. Unique personalities like hers are what make the world so fascinating. And when I find a book where a secondary character’s personality is unforgettable, the book is an instant hit for me. The sidekick, I think, can nearly make or break a story…it can also add incredible meaning to real life. Makes me wish I had a way to meet a huge, diverse group of people because I just know there are so many fun and special people out there. I’m also constantly searching to write an Abby into my novels…but it isn’t easy to capture such a unique personality. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d be willing to bet most people’s favs are these quirky characters, and yet conformity is so highly valued in our society. That’s what makes these guys so memorable, I think. I feel like there’s a lesson in that too.

      Liked by 1 person

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