Sunday, May 15, 2011

Give Your Characters At Least a Few Good Qualities

In response to a post I wrote yesterday, I have an example of yet another film that has very poor character development because the characters have no redeeming qualities.

It's a French film called Student Services -- or  Mes Cheres Etudes (en français) -- written by Emmanuelle Bercot. This movie chronicles the life of a student who gets into prostitution in order to pay the bills. I watched the film as I am always interested in what Europe is producing in terms of movies on topics such as the sex trade, as I wrote for magazines such as Playboy while I lived in Spain, and so I was immersed in this sort of writing myself.

Well... The characters are not likeable in the least. The main character's boyfriend is awful. I suppose Bercot wanted to show what an ass the boyfriend was as a reason for the main character's turning  to amateur prostitution to make ends meet.

In my opinion, however, if Bercot would have made the boyfriend just a little more likeable, instead of just a boor who demands his hashish and turns away from his girlfriend while she is trying to pleasure him because she didn't pay the electricity bill, Bercot still could have gotten the viewer on the main character's side. It would have been just a bit more lurid to watch a girl who actually had a tolerable boyfriend get into hooking. Or more deep and twisted. What if they were truly in love with one another? Perhaps the main character even could have had the misguided desire to use prostitution as a means to make her relationship with her boyfriend work.

While I lived in Europe, I was constantly being told how only Europeans have the huevos to delve into the dark side of life, as we Americans just can't go there. Our American movies are only happy, while European movies are deep.


Now that I have more understanding about what it really takes to make a good story, I think one can still journey through the dark side of life while making the inhabitants of the story more three-dimensional, with, dare I say, some good characteristics, not just depressing ones.

None of us are totally good -- nor totally bad. Even the crazy man who lives across the street from me and sometimes yells obscenities... He still has some redeemable qualities. (Of course, I have to be in an evolved state of mind to see them.)

Give your characters some good qualities, or suffer a one-dimensional story.


  1. This was in invaluable insight for me. Thanks for sharing your know-how. My heroine has vile parents but I'm rethinking how vile they should be? MMM - you gave me the meat to chew on her - thanks. Shah. X

  2. Hi Shah. I really struggle with this too. I am rewriting a story right now, trying not to make my characters so vile. :-)