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December 20, 2010 / Chersti Nieveen

Dr. Horrible, scientific experiments, and how that relates to deep characters

I just read a blog post by Sarah Fine about making choices and it got me thinking (check out the post here). She had a great point that all characters in fiction have to make choices. And you could put 40 different people in a situation, and they will all act differently.

One thing I have noticed is that good characters are good, and bad characters are bad. But the stories that are really deep — really complex — offer a good character who sometimes makes a bad decision. Or a bad character who sometimes chooses the right decisions. Or the reasoning behind those right / wrong decisions.

I know I need to add that depth to my own characters.

So looking at character depth, I have to look to Joss Whedon. Pick any of his shows, and you see depth.

Look at Dr. Horrible from Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Technically, he’s a bad guy. Yet, he really just wants to make the world a better place. And on top of that, he’s a nice person. To be honest, I’d love him as my neighbor. And you just get him as a person. You see his insecurities, especially with the girl of his dreams, Penny. And you see him repeatedly fail at his goal to join the Evil League of Evil. But at the end of the show, you realize he is still the bad guy. And you’ve been cheering for him all along.

However, he’s a complex character. You can see why he made those choices. And you still love him.

Another example is Adelle DeWitt from Dollhouse. (Yes, I’m a fan of when her hair is long! If only my own hair would grow back faster. Curse the gods of spontaneous hair cutting!!)

This character lives in the gray area. Her standards are diverse. But despite her repeated bad decisions throughout the series, you still come to love her as a character. The official character description calls DeWitt “very sophisticated” and “cold as an alp.” She “runs the Dollhouse with an efficiency that is both ruthless and protective” and “would die before she showed anyone how lonely she is.” It’s that loneliness that helps you see beneath her hardened skin. She is a strong person, who ends up fighting for the right side in the end. And her brave strength helps her become the needed “general” for their small army against Rossum.

So here’s my challenge for you. Add some depth to those characters — especially the villains!

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