Writing hidden characters

So the first post of 2015 comes a third of the way into the year but I sure you there has been good reasons. But to break up that hiatus, is an interesting discussion about writing characters.

There are thousands, if not millions of resources about writing characters for your television show or your film. They often tell you about writing about a back story, and make them seem human. There seems to be some sort of check list that will form (even in the new age manuals who claim there is “no one way”).

What they won’t tell you, or tea you about is the audience. Who despite falling into the demographic of people who will pay for this vs people who won’t pay are not actually how you should categorise them.

This understanding that I am working towards here will be clear as day when I bring in some television shows for examples, but I just want to drill it into your writing that there are three (or four depending on you inclination of setting/city being a character) character groups in every story. There is the characters that you see on the screen, the “pseudo-physical” beings who will take you through the storyline. The second is the author. This character falls into around two or so positions, being the actual scriptwriter, the director, or the again “pseudo-physical” narrator.

Now these two groups are easy to distinguish and develop. They have their traits, advantages and disadvantages of being included at certain times in a story. I’m not going to reiterate whatever you can probably find in any copy of Bordwell and Thompson’s book Film Art.

The the only character you will never hear about is the audience. Now you’re probably thinking, “Mark you’re and idiot!” Which is a fair assumption, but let me draw you to a couple of television shows that use you as an audience member to progress the storyline.

The first is House of Cards, which at this point if you have seen the show will illuminate a lightbulb to the numerous times Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) addresses the audience as another character to the internal ones.

The story is pivotal to the points when Frank does and more importantly does not address the fourth wall. This idea of the third character group being the audience themselves is notable in the third season of House of Cards. As most of the audience have discussed is that there has been a decline in the addressing from Frank as the season goes on, coinciding with his decline in favouritism by surrounding characters. The clear lack or decline of interaction from the character to us is an example of forced character profiling of our character.

Being treated as one of the internal characters, Frank effectually has created our persona to be in the same view point as them. But what sparked this train of thought was when I was watching Survivor: Worlds Apart, which I understand is a hard comparison to make. But as the structure of the show goes, the audience gets to see what is only shown to them, and you favour some characters over others (or forge alliances if you will).

Now I’m not saying that the editing, and favouring one character over another is not apart of the greater scheme of Survivor, but it does make it apparent to who you think will get voted out each episode. Being a character, you inadvertently become one of the players (without the survival and prize aspect).

It goes beyond just normal alliances too, in the second most recent episode (titled “We’re Finally Playing Some Survivor” – episode 5) and the most recent episode (titled “Odd Woman Out” – episode 6) tribal council has been very different to how the editing has pushed in their agenda. This not only causes the dynamic of the alliances within the tribes to change but who externally supports them – us.

But if you don’t feel this is true from the current day examples wander down the historic lane of The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, among others who all address the audience. Albeit it is for comic effect without you as a character supplying the gratification you don’t allow the story to progress. In layman terms, as a character if you want to change the discourse of the film you can (by turning it off, changing channels, etc.) effectively influencing how the storyline progresses.