Larry Brody’s TV Writing Tips & Tricks #4

Characterization
by Larry Brody

When writing for television, the key to creating a successful series is creating characters the audience wants to come back and see again and again. This means they have to be interesting—maybe even quirky—and realistic.

Many writers—and most development executives—think this means the characters have to be likeable, but television history belies this. Any Sippowitz may be everyone’s favorite “fascist” cop, but is he likeable? And what about Archie Bunker?

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The best way to devise series leads who get under the skin of the audience isn’t necessarily to make them likeable, but to make sure they’re sympathetic.

Your heroes need to have recognizable attitudes. The audience may not agree with the beliefs of these “people,” but we understand them, especially if they are caught up in situations that give them the feeling of powerlessness that we all have at one time or another in life.

(It may even be that “powerlessness” is the single most identifiable aspect of humanity, but that’s a topic for philosophers or psychotherapists—hmm, and, of course, for writers.)

As soon as the audience identifies with the leads in a series, it’s hooked. The viewers then have to come back every week to see how people they either love or love to hate are coping with the same kind of events that cause great anxiety and stress in the the lives of the viewers—whether the characters be doctors, lawyers, cops, or starship commanders.

So no matter what genre you’re working in, remember to give your characters the same troubles the rest of us have. Then sit back and watch the not only your leads but also your audience “sweat.”


Another in what I hope will be a long run of helpful hints for TV writers here on TVWriter™ every Tuesday. Which brings up a point: If you’d like to share some writing tips with your fellow TVWriter™ visitors, please get in touch with me at larrybrody@tvwriter.com and we’ll try to make a guest post happen.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.