Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Can't Stand You, But Come On In And Stay Awhile

Being the football fan that I am, I bet you think I am going to talk about the Super Bowl today. You are wrong. I care not for pro football, though that could change. There was a time when I didn't like sushi. That changed. I used to be Baptist. So, I could take up with pro football, much like I took up with raw fish and the Methodists. But it's not today. Today, I'm going to talk about characters.

Every writer knows that characters have to be likable. It's a given but I've had an epiphany about it, courtesy of my good and lifelong friend, television.

I watch television and plenty of it, though, apart from a little ESPN, I don't turn it on during day. But come prime time, I am there. It's a good thing that I can do two things at once. In this house, there are 47 remotes and much machinery that I do not know the function of. The Guy runs that. I'm smart enough, but why bother? He's got a list of what I like and he makes it happen for me, much like I make pumpkin pie and macaroni and cheese happen for him.

The world at large used to apologize for watching television. Remember those lies?

"I only watch educational programs and the news."

"I only watch a couple of hours a week."

And the biggest lie of all: "I never watch."

Yeah, well. I don't watch game shows, soap operas, daytime talk shows, or reality shows but it's not because I think I'm above it. It's because of the suck in factor. I get sucked in. I get committed. I'm loyal. If I decided I was going to watch, say, "Dr. Oz", I would, by golly, watch "Dr. Oz". Every day. I would record it if I had to be out. I am the sort who watched "Happy Days" even after the shark jump. Okay, I'm not the sort. I am THE person, possibly the only one. Why? Because "Happy Days" was my show and I was loyal. I learned my lesson about reality shows after "Joe Millionaire" and "Amish in the City". Nobody should anticipate an upcoming "Joe Millionaire" episode like it's written on stone tablets.

Consequently, I have found myself continuing to watch some shows (three to be exact, though I'm not going to name them) that I should divorce because I hate the characters. I don't know why I keep watching unless it's because I hope they will all die fiery deaths and I want to see it. Either that or because in the Television Church of Jean, divorce is not allowed.

One of the shows is a sitcom and two are family dramas. Last week, after the sit com, I said to The Guy, "Do you like any of these people?" He thought a bit and named one. He had a point. I kind of liked that guy too, though I think he is the one we are not supposed to like. I brought up the characters on the other two shows. We admitted we hated all of them. They whine, gossip, lie, create high drama, and are generally just mean people with bad morals, worse politics, and pretty faces.

I might stop watching these shows and I might not. I haven't decided but this I do know: It is important that we write likable characters. Television can get away with what a book cannot. It's easy to sit an hour with nattering whiners on the screen, especially if you are working a crossword puzzle or proofreading at the same time. It is impossible to make it through page after page of distaste.

Let's talk about favorite character—the ones you've written and read.

I'll tell you mine at the end of the day.


  1. My favorite character? Jamie Frasier. Oh, be still my heart! He's a hero with a capital H: funny, sexy, courageous, loyal, loving, with a wee bit of rascal in him :-).

    But unlike you, Jean, I can walk away from a television show. I watched one episode of "Friends," decided those people were not only stupid and shallow but they also weren't funny, and never watched another one. Likewise "Seinfeld." Those characters weren't stupid but they were mean and shallow, and I never watched again. I stopped watching Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck, Sybil, Gray's Anatomy, and probably a bunch others because I didn't like the characters. Life's too short, you know?

  2. I don't actually have a favorite TV character, although there are several shows I enjoy watching. But Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series is a brilliant character. I absolutely LOVE what J. K. Rowling did when she created him.

  3. I am loving Castle and Beckett on TV. Likewise Harry on the new shoe "Harry's Law." I've been a Survivor fan for years (go ahead, make all the snide remarks you want) but I refuse to watch the upcoming season because they've put Russell back on and he's the most disgusting human I've ever seen.

  4. ML--I do need to rethink my philosophy. I did quit Lost, right in the middle of an episode. I got tired of nothing happening. I understand it picked up but, by then, I was too mad to care.

    Crystal--I love a character I can't quite figure out and Snape is certainly one.

    PM--I am with you on Castle and Beckett. What chemistry! No reason to make fun of you about Survivor. I thought of another reality show I watched--Hell's Kitchen. I watched three seasons and finished that third season but I knew I would not watch another. I quit for the same reason people kept going back for more: I couldn't stand how Gordan Ramsey yelled at people and he yelled the same things season after season.

    I've chanted my mind. I'm going to tell the names of the shows whose characters I hate: Cougar Town, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers and Sisters. On the other hand I love the characters on White Collar, Bones, Castle, and Big Bang Theory.

  5. I am so glad that Linda said she didn't like Seinfeld! I never did, and so many people say things to me like, "Really? It was so great!" No, no it wasn't. Not for ME anyway. They were whiny, shallow people and I know in some ways that was the point of the show, but I don't like that.

    I never watched Friends. Just never appealed to me. I did love Frasier though. Used to laugh so hard at that show.

    I am very choosy about TV. I love Castle, of course. Love Big Bang Theory. I'm a Gleek. I also like the older Two and a Half Men reruns. That's about all of my shows, right there. Except for things like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Anthony Bourdain, What Not To Wear, and Selling New York -- which aren't fictional.

    Bourdain is a cranky bastard, as he often identifies himself, and yet he still manages to be likeable. It's because he shows an unexpectedly tender side from time to time, like when he hates something they've given him to eat but eats it anyway and says it's good.

    Like you, I gave up on Hell's Kitchen after the 3rd season because I was tired of Gordon Ramsay saying the same darn things, the challenges being the same, and all the manufactured drama behind the scenes. Not only that, but most of those people were just cooks who weren't really going to get to be an executive chef of anything if they won. They are actually junior chefs, or whatever they call them, while someone else runs the kitchen. Because GR isn't dumb enough to put someone with no experience in charge of an expensive restaurant.

  6. Lynn--I, too, hate Seinfeld. I never attempted it in prime time but decided to give it a try in reruns because "everyone" loves, loves, loves it.
    Not me and I am glad I'm not alone.

    Sounds like Anthony is a hero waiting to happen!

  7. LOST???? Jean, you quit LOST? Yeah, sometimes nothing much happened, but at the end . . . I cried buckets. That show was so unusual, in that it was finite; the writers had an end in sight when they began, and they stayed true to that end.

    The only reality show I watch is IDOL. You become so connected to the contestants, rooting for them. And this year is hilarious. Steven Tyler is an unexpected delight.

  8. Oh, I agree, Jean. There are just some things that are not worth time. CSI, Calamozu. That's what it'll be next. I'm tired of televsion showing the public over and over again the different ways a human body can be mutilated. Ack! Therefore I will not watch any crime shows, except for Castle, Hawaii 5-O, and The Mentalist. But we all know we're watching those shows for something completely different.

    I'm addicted to the Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. If you want to see some really great writing, watch these shows. Damon is the best anti-hero/hero in the world. The Winchester brothers are fantastic!

    I'm not a big fan of reality shows but I do have to have American Idol. You're so right, Maven Linda! Steven Tyler is way cool. I love everything about him, his crazy cat clothes, his attitude and he has this likability factor that's off the charts.

    I wasn't really ever into Lost. Once you haven't watched it's very hard to catch up. But I did really like the way they ended it!

    I think as long as we remember that the characters we write are like people we know and observe, and make choices that aren't contrary to their nature, they will feel real to readers too. That's one thing I've learned in all my travels. People are people, no matter where they live or what language they speak. People are the same.

  9. Yep, Jamie Fraser is a favorite. I'm also pretty partial to Eric from True Blood, but that could possibly change depending on what happens next.

    And I have no problems dumping a show. I dumped Grey's Anatomy and I started out a die hard fan. It just got to be too much. I dumped Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters, several reality shows, etc. My time is precious and there's usually another show on during that time that I'm interested in. If you can't hold my attention, someone else will. Even if it is Ancient Aliens or Pawn Stars. There are just too many channels and too many options for a television show to suck...even for one episode.

    I'm starting to get that way with books too. I used to finish whatever book I started. No. Matter. What. These days, my reading time is precious and if you can't hold my attention then I'm moving on. Or writing my own.


  10. Any other fans of The Closer? I'm sad to hear it's in its last season. I was a huge fan of Monk too -- what an odd "hero." But he worked because his quirks stemmed from something so painful. You always laughed with him but never at him.

    I've had to stop watching What Not to Wear. My bank account can't handle it. ::grin:: And after hearing a girl whine about not being able to have a $14K wedding dress, I said "NO" to Say Yes to the Dress. My goodness! That's a downpayment on a house! I have an idea she'll be making payments to a divorce lawyer before she's paid off the wedding.


  11. Supernatural is the top of my list for right now. I love the characters, especially the older brother, who's name escapes me right now (you'd think I'd remember after watching every season). I also like Big Bang Theory. That's about it on the shows I watch. I hate reality shows. I never watched Seinfeld or Friends either.

    I don't know if you've noticed it or not but we all seem to have a theme going here - we seem to like and dislike the same things. Odd...Maybe it's because we're all writers and know we could do better.

  12. ML--What can I say. When I get mad enough, I'm done and I got really mad at Lost. I do love Steven Tyler.

    Kathy--Love Damon. My favorite quote from the last episode: (Damon to Stephen.)"I might need to get a hero hair-do of my own and steal your thunder."

    Kira--Oh, I'll quit a book (and apparently Lost), which makes it seem even odder that I feel I must witness the jumping of the shark.

    Cheryl--I've never watched Supernatural but I have discovered a great new show, Being Human. It is a mix of funny and horror. It reminds me a bit of Buffy.

    And my favorite character. There are so many but I guess it comes down to Kevin Tucker from Susan Elizabeth Phillip's This Heart of Mine.

  13. I loved Fire Fly. That Captain Tight-Pants gets me every time. I am also a huge Big Bang Theory fan, I wish I could talk to Sheldon on the phone.
    I think he is a hoot. I don't think I am supposed to like him but I love him.

    My favorite two characters aren't from romance books. They are Tell Sackett from the Louis L'Amour books and Ken McCoy from W.E.B. Griffin's Marine Corp books. I don't think men like that exist anymore in real life.