Thursday, 9 July 2015

Well-Written Characters (Part 4)

(Character sheet for Avatar Korra, from Legend of Korra, source)

As both a consumer of various entertainment media and a writer, characters are one of the key factors that decide if I end up liking a franchise or not, and that's probably true for many people. As shown by my One Hundred Character Meme, I enjoy a variety of different characters.

However, what I like even more is a well-written character. What defines what this is will be different for different people, but it got me thinking: what makes ME consider a character well-written? How can I adore one character in one series and yet dislike a very similar character in another? And better still, how can this help me make sure the characters I create are similarly written?

So, in this four-part series, I'm going to apply some simple criteria to several examples from books, video game, TV and film, and see if they fit or fail the Sam's Well-Written Character Test (TM).

Please remember this is a completely subjective set of criteria and it's simply my personal opinion, nothing more!

My deciding criteria consists of:

Personality- how is the character presented, what traits define them, how easy is it to identify the character, do they stand out compared to others?

Flaws/ Roundedness- what are the character's flaws? How do these interfere with/ hinder the character? Do they make the character feel more real?

Relatability- how relatable is the character? Can we empathize/ sympathize with them?

Consistency- is the character written consistently? Do they have any out-of-character moments, and if so are these plot-drive or convenience driven?

Development- does the character have an arc, do they learn anything/ change as a result (for better or worse)?

Each one will be marked out of 5, and the standard to qualify for well-written for me will be 15/25 (60%) (average 3/5 for all criteria). Not an easy one to please, am I?

View Part One here.

Part Two here.

Part Three here.

So let's see how our chosen ones will fare in our final medium, FILMS!

Jasminder 'Jas' Kaur (Bend It Like Beckham)




Personality: 4/5

Jas is the very talented, if somewhat shy, main star of the film. Her one true love is football (soccer), and she's pretty good at it, too. However she's pulled into conflict with her traditional Sikh roots, where her parents do not appreciate her talent and try to make her conform to their traditional standards. Jas shows great determination and courage, yet at the same time she's always questioning and second-guessing herself, so she provides a great rounded mix of personal traits.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 4/5

Jas' main flaws come from her indecisiveness and her wanting to please everyone all the time, rather than make choices for herself. She's really torn between wanting to take a chance and follow her dream versus making her parents happy by being 'bored out of her mind as a solicitor'. She's also pretty shy and underconfident (which I find adorable!).

Relatability: 5/5

For me Jas is extremely relatable, as while I'm not Sikh (I'm Hindu) the cultural boundaries are pretty much the same. Families of Indian background tend to value stable, professional jobs rather than creative, artistic ones and there is a lot of extended familial 'gossip' for even the most trivial things. Poor Jas is punished for being talented at something seen as 'worthless' (as there's no financial stability) and this puts her at odds with her parents, family and culture. Also, her lack of awareness as to the 'gossip' mentality of close family/ friends lands her into trouble, which has happened to me on occasion when I was younger (thankfully I am much wiser now!).

Consistency: 3/5

Jas is pretty consistent, well, as consistent as one can be when they're in such inner conflict. She'll lie to her parents to go play for her local women's football team, and then in the next breath be so crushed with guilt that she'll talk herself out of every playing again. The only time she doesn't quite act like usual are when she's slightly drunk at the club and has a brief intimate moment with her coach, despite knowing that her best friend also has a crush on him.

Development: 4/5

Jas does have a wonderful arc where she comes to reconcile her two conflicting desires and makes peace with her parents and her life choices. She finally decides what she wants for herself and does it in a way of compromise with her parents, rather than defiance, and this finally leads to their acceptance. She also makes amends with her best friend, and her sister, and learns that she can value her roots and culture while at the same time also embark on her dream career.

Total: 20/25 (80%)

Good pass! (forgive the pun!)

Rapunzel (Tangled)




Personality: 3/5

Rapunzel is a feisty, free-spirited princess (although she's unaware of the latter for most of the film). She's creative and artistic, has a passionate imagination and like your typical teen wants to prove she can survive outside on her own, as well as find the truth about her past. While she may be afraid and unwilling at first, once she finds the courage to leave home against her 'mother's' wishes, she proves to be determined and proactive in her endeavors.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 3/5

Rapunzel's flaws come from her naivety and gullibility. Given her lack of worldly experience she is prone to being easily manipulated, and also her impulsive nature can lead her to make unwise choices. Her fear of Mother Gothel too undermines her confidence and independence; things she eventually learns to overcome.

Relatability: 4/5

Rapunzel is pretty appealing to most, with everyone able to identify with the 'finding yourself' adolescent themes and her quirky determination; a significant departure from the usual passive and tame Disney Princesses of old. We can easily empathise with her situation and desperation to learn about the lanterns, and I enjoyed following her journey.

Consistency: 4/5

Rapunzel can fluctuate between fierce and independent to lukewarm and regretful (as shown in this brillant GIF set), depending on her feelings at the time. However this tends to be plot related, and there wasn't a moment I recall where she acted way out of character, so she's generally consistent.

Development: 3/5

The development Rapunzel follows is generally well done (if somewhat predictable). She learns to trust herself and her skills, stands up to Mother Gothel who has smothered her entire life, and even experiences loss (even if it is short-lived). She's not as naive as before, but still retains her sense of self, so ends up more rounded.

Total: 17/25 (68%)

Rapunzel makes the cut too!

Carl Fredricksen (Up!)





Personality: 4/5

Carl is the curmudgeonly grumpy old man who finally embarks on his own adventure after the passing of his dear wife. He's very shut in, resentful and just wants to be left alone, believing the world has nothing left to offer him as it took the woman he loved away. He's certainly not meant to be likeable, which makes him stand out to other main characters, but of course he has reasons to be the way he is...

Flaws/ Roundedness: 5/5

Carl's main flaws stem from him isolating himself. He's very antisocial, quite short-tempered and really wants to sever all ties to anything he could care about. Given what we learn about his life, this is all too understandable, and cement him as a solid character.

Relatability: 3/5

Even though an elderly gentleman may not be the most relatable to children, the way Carl is portrayed gives him clear motivations and backstory, which anyone of any age can appreciate. We also share his shock when he discovers the truth about his childhood hero, and root for him to win.

Consistency: 4/5

Carl is consistent for his development. The choices and decisions he makes fit with his personality and mindset of each moment, and he doesn't step much out of it.

Development: 4/5

Carl's development is strong. Even though he's loved and lost and thinks there is nothing left for him, he is able to rediscover himself, find a new companion in the form of his boy scout 'grandson', and go on and enjoy the adventure he always dreams of. He also comes to appreciate the time he spent with his wife, and lets go of his regret that he could never take her to their adventure spot.

Total: 20/25 (80%)

Well, was there ever any doubt?


And there it is; all characters pass my test! Not bad, eh?

What do you look for in a well-written character, and who do you consider well-written? Tell me!

Don't forget to check Part One: Books!

And Part Two: Games!

Not forgetting Part Three: Animation/ TV!

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