Developing Paradoxical Characters

Making a character interesting drives the audience’s desire to follow his or her goals and outcomes. The audience wants to get behind a character and cheer them on, but they must first be drawn to them in a unique way that inspires exploration of the character. This is best accomplished by using a paradox within the character’s life or personality.

M.A.S.H. was known for it’s paradoxical characters. Alan Alda’s character of Hawkeye was diametrically opposed to war and wanted no part of it, yet every time he desired to go AWOL, the loudspeaker would announce the in coming wounded and stop him in his tracks. Hawkeye was drawn to the operating room because saving lives was more important than his hatred of war.

These two opposing drivers made his character enjoyable to watch and raised numerous questions in the minds of the audience. They needed to understand what made him tick. During its eleven seasons, people came to love Hawkeye even though they never knew what to expect next, yet his consistency was amazing.

The best way to develop an interesting character is by starting with his flaw. This flaw will have a visible action associated with it to play well on screen. To add strength to the character, it’s important to never explain the flaw, but just demonstrate it. The actions should be divided up into three distinct visuals.

What the flaw causes him to do in:
1. Public
2. A small group of friends
3. Private

Once in place, the dialog can be used to create further conflict or raise additional questions with the audience. The visuals will help connect the various demonstrated flaw elements to the character in a way that the audience can understand. This makes change or growth in the character at a later point in the story much easier, as all you have to do is change the visual – Cluing in the audience that he has changed his ways.

The best way to express the paradox throughout the show is to take the flaw and determine what it might look like as a blessing. For instance, the person who can be stubborn can also persevere. Perseverance can look very similar to stubbornness, but with a positive spin. Hawkeye hated war because too many people died, yet being a surgeon kept him from leaving the war because if he left, too many people would die.

The paradox within his character was based on the same flaw, which was developed throughout his life. It was his Achilles’ heel or the basis of his human condition – The part of him we all fell in love with.

Creating a person who is good and gets better by the end of the film does nothing for the audience. It’s only when we see and understand their humanity and flaws that we can relate and then cheer them on to grow into a mature and rich life. We love rags to riches stories, not rich to filthy rich stories. In this case, I’m speaking of the richness of their character development, but financially speaking we would find the same to hold true.

So, try writing a flawed character that you can turn into an overcomer. Create that person who can turn their flaw into a positive. Turn that stubborn person into the one who perseveres long enough for help to arrive during the scenes of the downed airplane.

Or, maybe you want that shy person to be the only one that listens well enough to figure out the answer that spares a man’s life in the eleventh hour. Or, the scrawny kid that constantly gets ridiculed until the day they are locked in a closet of a burning house and the kid is the only one to make it through the vent to get help and unlock the door to free the others seconds before affixation.

Finding a paradox gives the audience plenty of entertainment and gives the writer lots of creative thoughts worth pursuing. It is a great form of character development that every writer needs to embrace. It’s also a character that can provide substantial irony for the audiences entertainment.

Copyright © 2011 By CJ Powers

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