Sunday, 24 March 2013

Characterisation

In a previous post I mentioned a television series called Last of the Summer Wine. One aspect of the programme that stands out strongly is the writer’s skill in character creation. Or, at least for the three main male characters. Those key male characters in the best years of the series are called Compo, Clegg and Foggy. And they are radically different from each other. Roy Clarke drew them as three old men who make a glorious combination because of the way they rub against each other. Compo is the eternal work-shy scruff, Clegg is the reserved and nervous ex-lino salesman, and Foggy is the over-bearing army corporal given to dreams of glory he never actually achieved. The combination works to perfection and allows for some brilliant dialogue.

So why are all the female characters so alike? Why are they all drawn as harridans? The three main female characters, Nora, Ivy and Pearl are largely interchangeable, like old post-card images of Blackpool boarding house landladies. They shout and harangue the men and given vent to their feelings of superiority over the male sex. The dialogue is brilliantly done, but where is the contrast between the principle female characters that exits between the three old men?

There’s a lesson here for fiction writers. It’s not just your main characters that have to be well drawn… don’t forget the supporting characters.

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