I really didn't want to come on here and talk about the recent passing of Leonard Nimoy. There's very little that can be said of him that hasn't already been said and unlike someone like William Corliss, whom I've already mentioned in a previous post, his accomplishments are more-or-less public knowledge, so to praise him would be tedious and of little value.

From what I've gathered, everyone liked Mr. Nimoy, regardless of their political affiliations or age. He seemed to be a genuinely good person and someone who didn't take themselves too seriously, which is always appreciated in today's selfie-obsessed climate. Like nearly everyone else, I remember his role as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek best of all, followed by his stint as host of '...In Search Of'. (In the '90s, he also narrated a show called 'Ancient Mysteries', which was also very good and not quite as goofy as '...In Search Of', but not as memorable for some reason). Leonard Nimoy is best known as Mr. Spock because he made the character a fully-realized person, so much so that later actors to play the role (i.e. Zachary Quinto, Todd Haberkorn) pretty much do a 'Nimoyesque' imitation, lest they drive Trekkers into the streets with pitchforks and torches.

Assuming we are talking about the Nimoy-era Spock, what made Mr. Spock a good character? It's a question you should ask yourself before starting any writing project. It doesn't have to be about Mr. Spock, of course. It can be about any memorable character. What makes a character worth an audience's time?

Characters are an integral part of storytelling.They allow us as an audience to identify with the narrative. Sometimes, they allow us to 'get into' the story and inhabit the world, whether its something phantasmagoric or mundane. Other times, they remind us of something we've seen or act as a magnification of some particular trait.

Take the movie Full Metal Jacket for example. During the first-half of the story, we're shown three very distinct characters, two of which are something we can point to as having traits we see in others and one in which we can inhabit and empathize with. The dim-witted Lawrence (nickname 'Gomer Pyle') is like everyone you've seen struggle with some difficulty, but were unable to help. DI Hartmann is like the unrelenting march of life, constantly nagging all the recruits and particularly Lawrence to the breaking point. Davis (aka Joker) is the one character we identify with directly, because he has a whirlwind of trouble constantly circling him and goes through the story just as confused and shocked as we in the audience are.

I realize that's a pretty thin analysis, but it works better the more you think about it. In short, characters need to be someone whom we either:

1) Identify with directly (Harry Potter from the Harry Potter books, Mattie Ross from True Grit, or Robinson Crusoe from Robinson Crusoe).

or

2) Seen as a representation of some common difficulty or trait (Captain Ahab [Obsession-man] from Moby Dick or John Hammond [Blinded-by-greed-man] from Jurassic Park (the book, not the movie).

The next thing to remember is that perfection sucks. Ever hear the term Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, for you gender-sensitive types)? A Mary Sue is a character who is perfect. She's perfectly pretty. She's liked by everyone unless it's the obligatory 'bad-guy'. She's either incredibly intelligent or lucky, and any problem she encounters is dealt with either by her swift brilliance or the impossibly kind hand of fate. Larry Niven had fun with this idea in Ringworld: Teela Brown was gorgeous, bimboish and preternaturally lucky. Unfortunately, when a Mary Sue isn't done with satirical intent, it makes for a very boring character and much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes on the part of the audience.

Good characters have flaws. Preferably many. Flaws are all-too human and make the character seem more real. Flaws can be superficial, like phobias or fetishes (Indiana Jones hates snakes, Suzanne Wipkey hates cockroaches, Martian Manhunter is obsessed with Oreos), or they can be deeply psychological in nature (Jack Torrance is alcoholic, Bruce Banner has anger issues, Mr. Spock is torn between his emotional human half and logical Vulcan half). Problems are interesting to read. And more importantly, they are interesting to write. If you're having fun, you're readers will too. Start with a Mary Sue if you want to, then give him or her a few flaws...say three or four minor and one major, something to create tension within the narrative.

Remember: Drama equals conflict. Character equals flaws. Flaws create conflict. Drama will come from good characters. It's that simple. Create good characters and half your work is done.

And keep an eye out for character development. A character doesn't necessarily have to learn something and change throughout a story...that's a half-truth perpetuated in high-school literature classes. Sometimes, especially in tragedies, a character may not change and grow even though the environment around him has. Think about Captain Ahab. He dies stabbing the whale at the end of the book, having not learned a damned thing. But we readers have learned something by the results of his actions: don't be an obsessive douche.

In other news, I've about finished my tool shed and consequently my Watermelon List has been shortened by one item. I will be publishing a new short story "The Banal Mister Baxter" soon. I'll keep everyone posted.

Have a great week everyone!