Saturday, March 20, 2010
No, not the award. Oscar Freiberger, the character.
A couple of weeks ago, I got involved in an email dispute with a couple of coworkers about the TV show LOST. I've always been a big fan of the character Kate (played by the lovely Evangeline Lilly) but these two guys can't stand her. They contend that she's worthless as a character because she contributes nothing to the story. "She's just around to screw things up. Name one thing she's done," one of them said. Now, at the time, all I could think of was a lame response: "She keeps me watching."
But the question stuck with me. I've since thought of several things Kate's contributed to the story, not the least of which was taking Aaron off the island. But the idea that a character has to actually do something proactive to have value to a story kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, Kate, as a reluctant member of the love triangle between herself, Sawyer and Jack, has had great influence over the decisions those two have made and, thus, has affected the story, albeit indirectly. And, in her defense, her character is not uninteresting. Her backstory is one of the more action-packed and riveting of the entire group.
So, as I'm now working on the script for the third part* of THE HAND ME DOWN HORROR, I started thinking about the relevance of my own characters. I wanted my lead character Johnny to have a fairly large group of friends because, unless you're talking about Peter Parker, most high-schoolers do. I wasn't what you'd call popular by any stretch of the imagination but, at that age, I had a "crew" that I hung around with at lunch and between classes and went to the movies with. Some of us were closer than others. But it was a nice, comfortable group that I knew I could count on if I needed something. And vice versa.
As I've been progressing into the more vaguely plotted-out portion of my story (I didn't do an outline so I know the beginning and end but only some of what comes between.) I'm noticing that some of my characters have, to this point, just been around for atmosphere and as foils for Johnny. (But, hey, nobody ever complains about Dr. Watson.) They all have their arcs and backstories and I'd intended to include all that in the story but I'm noticing just how little of that sort of thing you can include without slowing things down. Eamon's arc is my favorite and one that I think would resonate the most with readers. But I keep wondering if it has any real relevance to the main story. I would hate to shoehorn in something just because I like it. That's just self-indulgent.
Fortunately, I don't have that problem with Oscar, seen in the drawing above. When I was first thinking about these characters, I had an old high-school chum in mind if only in appearance and demeanor. I really liked this guy because, back then, in the age before the internet, he was a goldmine of knowledge about all kinds of obscure things I'd never heard of. He lived with his parents in what looked like a delightful old farm house with wonderfully creaky floorboards and, one day, when I gave him a ride home after school, he took me to his room and showed me his collection of old beer bottles and cans that are probably worth a fortune today. He had great taste in music and, while the rest of us were listening to 80's Pop (not knocking it, mind you) on the one good station in the area, he was walking around in DOORS T-shirts and listening to the classics that I wouldn't be exposed to until college. His dad ran a hardware store and, when we visited him, he'd talk to you like just another guy, and not like some kid that was bugging him.
As I got into the story, though, all that, neat as it was, wasn't enough and I realized I needed someone who knew the things that Johnny needs to find out. Johnny's not dumb but he's my Everyman (well, Everykid) and ultra-smart kids can sometimes come off as annoying or precocious. That's not Johnny. And I didn't want him spending the whole story on the computer Googling things. I want this to feel like a timeless coming-of-age story and kids sitting around with laptops is anything but timeless. (Can you imagine Wil Wheaton in STAND BY ME calling for help on his iPhone and pinpointing the body's location with GPS? Ugh.) So enter Oscar. Oscar knows everything. It's actually a sort of running gag throughout the story. Oscar probably couldn't use a shovel but he can give you a thirty minute dissertation on the Battle of Hastings whether you want to hear it or not. But he's also annoyingly sarcastic. He needed a personality so I started thinking, "What would Gregory House have been like as a kid?" And, boom. Oscar was born. I hope you'll like him as much as I do.
I was going to include some logo designs but, since work is a real bear lately (how am I ever going to draw this damned book when I barely have time to write it?) and this post has gone way long, I'll save them for next time.
* This, by the way, is the most I've ever scripted out on any of my little amateur projects. I've written (and re-written) untold "first issues" and typed up complete plots of at least half a dozen ideas and written several short stories and one novella. But I think I may actually finish this one. Imagine that.
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 8:22 AM