e’ve talked about the importance of hooks, and how critical it is to draw a short-attention-span audience into buying/reading your masterwork. So how about character development? Shouldn’t we be able to form our character descriptions quickly?
Hundreds of years ago, traveling troupes set up archetypes so that ignorant peasants in every village wouldn’t have to suffer the drag of character development. Scaramouch was always the trickster and weaver of plots. Harlequin was the mute jester. And so on. The characters dressed and acted according to their established types and were known immediately to their audiences.
So here’s a good example of a lot of story setup in a short period of time. This comes from an Anime (Japanese animated series) called Gangsta, about two thugs who get the job done (whatever the job is, and don’t ask). The clip can be found HERE. And please note that the beginning has a lot of S&M imagery.
And that imagery sets the idea that this show will be about vice, women in cuffs, pills, all sorts of things.
28 seconds in, we see the first primary character, a man with an eyepatch (adventurous) and a book (learned) in bed. He rolls up, bending over to hold his head in his hand, the mark of either sleep apnea or a dark past (bank on the latter).
35 second in, the second guy, waking up on a couch, a man who can rough it, no permanent residence, drinking Perrier (or something like it).So he’s pure.
Okay, so that’s our two characters. Now, how can we establish their relationship and their outlooks on life? The scene from 44 seconds on, them walking out the door under a ceiling fan, tugging on rumpled shirts with casual looks in their eyes. The blonde guy is tying back his hair (time for business). And the other fellow? Even through the clip I found cut off a little of the bottom, he’s got a samurai sword casually carried. Their eyes are like those of wolves, easy yet scanning.
After that, well, it’s all running-across-rooftop action, a promise of what the show will be like. But that’s unimportant. In 24 seconds, we’ve pretty much established two characters, their relationship and their worldview. Yes, details will follow in the series, but from the first show I rather knew who I was dealing with.
Now, we’re writers, not animators, but the same holds true. You don’t have time to play peep-a-boo games with character development. The moment your character is on-stage (or, rather, on-page) you need to establish critical points about them, quickly. That tick. That noble nose. That unkempt hair. Those killer eyes. Description is no longer something to be coaxed through drawing room dialog. You have to get it down pretty quickly and get on with the story.
Like they did with these gangstas.