Thursday, September 9, 2010

On characters and emotions

If you have never seen Friday Night Lights, you now have the chance!

They've started at the beginning of season 1 on ABC Family Channel at 6 pm and it will air M-F, taking us through the show. If that isn't enough awesomeness, Gilmore Girls, the first season, is playing right before it, at 5 pm. So, I've been watching GG while I make dinner, and then after dinner, I catch what I can of Friday Night Lights.

So this isn't really a post about Friday Night Lights. I mean, it is, but it isn't. It's about what I've learned from watching this show that I think is really important for us writers.

Last night I tuned in about halfway through the episode. Coach Taylor has lost his star QB and the town is expecting big things from this team. From this coach. And he's feeling the weight of that. People are looking at him, expecting him to pull out a miracle, and he has no idea what to do. He has a brand new QB who is going to have to step up and do big things. He's scared for himself, his team and his new QB.

His wife, Tami, comes in to his office with a six pack of beer, sits down, and he starts telling her he doesn't know what he's going to do.

And when Tami starts talking, I start crying.

My husband is like - you just turned it on a few minutes ago and you're already crying?

This got me thinking. What is it about certain scenes that go right to the heart and touch me like that? I want to know what that is. I want to understand it.

What does Tami tell her husband, as he's sitting there, the stress and worry eating him up? She says:

"I believe in you. This is what you DO. If anyone can do this, it's YOU."

It touched me because I have felt that fear and worry around letting someone down in my work. Maybe even recently I've felt that. And what do you most need to hear when you're feeling that way? You need to hear *exactly* what Tami said. But how often do people actually get that? Not often. So the emotions come up because it's not Coach Taylor sitting there, it's YOU. And Tami is talking to YOU.

That's what we have to do in our writing. We have to make people see themselves, somehow, in our characters. I'm about as different from Coach Taylor as you can get. And yet, last night, I felt his pain. Situations may be different, but EMOTIONS ARE THE SAME. We have to be able to bring that to the page. We can do the best job in the world bringing a character to life with all of his likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies, etc. But in the end, we must show what's in his heart and get people to feel that too.

That's why those of us who love this show tell people - it's really not about football. It's about characters with issues we can relate to and even better, friends and spouses and family members who respond in a way that touch our hearts. It's real in the best possible way, if that makes any sense.

Clear minds. Full hearts. Can't lose. I hear you, Coach Taylor. I hear you.


  1. So true. It's the emotional core of the story we respond to - whether we know it or not!

  2. I think that is why it is important to really clarify what your character wants. Alex Sokoloff has some excellent information on her blog about story structure.

  3. I was reading Out Of My Mind the other day and was surprised when I started feeling emotional. At least four different times!

  4. Great post! It's so important to always, always write knowing that we want the reader to emotionally connect with the character, but I think that's (unfortunately) what I think least about. I get caught up in plot and story arc and dialogue and technical stuff. Thanks for the reminder!