In part two of Karl Iglesias' exploration of character development in Creative Screenwriting, he discusses "fascination" as a means of drawing an audience into the character. Last issue, he gave us some input on "recognition" or character empathy. Good stuff. But, as usual, I need clarification and, for some reason, Karl doesn't answer me when I talk to his picture in my magazine. How rude.
The basic crux of Karl's position is that fascinating characters are those that contrast or contradict themselves. Again, he uses the Melvin Udall character from As Good as It Gets as his example. Unlovable Melvin, who hates just about everybody, writes romance novels. That's his character contrast and what makes him fascinating. Okay, I'm clear on this. But the "unlovable" part is because Melvin is so compulsive, so disagreeable, so difficult for people to understand, and ultimately this makes him lonely. Melvin's character is "fascinating", but parts of his character are "recognizable" and inspire empathy. Karl's basic truths about characters we empathize are --
(1) We care about individuals we feel sorry forIn order for a character to be "fascinating", does one of his conflicting characteristics have to be something that people recognize and empathize with? Melvin is certainly somebody we feel sorry for (number one) and he certainly displays humanistic traits (number two).
(2) We care about individuals who display humanistic traits
(3) We care about individuals who have traits we admire
Parts of Melvin's character fall into the "feel sorry for" category and he displays "humanistic traits". Would the fascinating part of his character work without the empathy part? Can characters be fascinating if we don't identify with them at all? Does fascination stand alone or must it be paired with empathy?
Greek mythology has always held a fascination for me. While I can't possibly relate to being master of the universe like Zeus or goddess of love like Aphrodite (unless she was a short, demi-butterball with a Texas twang), I can certainly identify with the Greek gods' feelings of jealousy, pride, love, anger, and vengeance. Even mythological gods have characteristics people identify with. Goodness knows I pity poor Atlas who groaned at being used as a great packhorse for mankind. Wonder if that Hollywood sign groans under the weight of a similar burden?