It’s All About the Characters

James Gandolfini

In this age of PVR’s, boxed sets and better technology, my husband and I do most of our television viewing on demand and series by series. For instance, right now we escape into fantasy land by watching alternating episodes of Mad Men and Dexter, and are awaiting the return of Breaking Bad in August. Throw in Weeds for comic relief, and we were all set.

As coincidence would have it, we have the first two seasons of the Sopranos waiting for us when we finish Mad Men for the year. I know, I know, you are probably asking what rock were we living under to have not seen Tony Soprano and his show yet! My best answer would be that when it first came on TV back in the day, Husband and I were a little tired of the gangster genre from movies and decided not to partake. Recently, though, I saw the list of the top three TV shows voted for best writing, and they were the Twilight Zone, Seinfeld, and the Sopranos.

Trusting this list because we loved the first two, I suggested we should give the Sopranos a look-see. In addition, many of our friends had highly praised the show ad nauseum.

Then we hear the tragic news of James Gandolfini‘s massive fatal heart attack yesterday,  the demise of a great actor who just so happens to be my age (I always thought he was older). The outpouring of grief in the media, including social media, cannot be ignored.

This actor created a character that obviously resonated with many. The story line may be compelling as well, but isn’t it the characters that draw you back to watch a show again and again? Simply put, without the intricacies and nuances of a character to keep your attention, would a story be even half as interesting?

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue
Don Draper of Mad Men – IMBd

I wouldn’t care much about Mad Men if I wasn’t trying to figure out what made Don Draper tick. The same goes for Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Without these unique opportunities for character study, these shows wouldn’t hold our attention beyond the first few scene changes.

Dexter Morgan
Dexter Morgan – wikipedia

Fiction novels are exactly the same. If I can’t in some way identify or be fascinated by the main character at least, the book is not worth reading to me. What would I do in this particular individual’s situation? Even if I can’t see myself behaving that way or saying those words, does the protagonist at least show me a way of understanding his or her actions?

tv_breaking_bad01As I write my own novel, I keep this uppermost in my mind. It is all about the characters. They are who the readers, and the viewers, fall in love with.

Rest in Peace, James. As you prematurely leave this world, I am about to delve into another one, the world you created as Tony Soprano. For another opportunity to study an enduring and memorable character, I am forever grateful.

James Gandolfini – IMBd

19 thoughts on “It’s All About the Characters

  1. I am not much of a TV watcher but do love a good movie.
    Now that one is able to watch on demand, it could be time for me to delve into some of these well-regarded series.
    I have not seen the Sopranos but I remember James G in ‘The Mexican’.
    He is actually younger than me. What a loss.


    1. Elizabeth, there is so much out there now in good series to watch besides what I mentioned. I’ve been wondering about Downton Abbey for instance, and a few others that have less violence. Mad Men doesn’t have violence, but has lots of infidelity which creates much of its tension.
      Gandolfini was in quite a few movies, and was a great actor. A terrible loss for his family as well as the acting world.


  2. Jennifer well said, I don’t bother watching or reading if the character is flat and uninteresting. Characters have flaws, human glitches and traits that keep the reader interested, not to mention secrets and surprises for the reader along the way. There has to be something I want to learn about the characters that keeps me coming back for more. Thank you great informative post and it made me take another look at my characters.


    1. Kath, you’ve gotten my point loud and clear. 🙂 I realize characterization is only one component of good writing, but I think it is the most important one in fiction. It is the exploring of flaws and uncovering of secrets that keep us engaged.
      Thank you for your comments!


      1. Jennifer Im a book worm and usually can pick the ending of a movie half way through it, which drives my husband crazy lol. I recognise the drop in hints etc from years of studying the craft of writing. I fall in love with characters and sometimes get a little put off when a character from a book is not how I imagined it to be in the movie. Which is funny really as the beauty of the book is to allow us to create the images in our minds and every bodies versions would be different. My time learning from reading about the craft is done, it is time to put my words out there and see if I can create memorable characters too, so thank you for the reminder it was just what I needed today.


        1. You are welcome!
          Books allow you to create your own ideas as to how things appear and what the characters look like, but i did the reverse last week for a change, when I read the Great Gatsby for the first time. I imagined the characters as they are in the newest release of the movie, with DiCaprio and the rest of the cast. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I looked it up and DiCaprio I believe was perfect casting for the lead role.


  3. Hello Jennifer,

    What an amazing list of series to keep you guys engaged. This morning, I heard about the passing of James (Soprano) who was excellent in his role. Many his soul rest in peace.


  4. I hope you enjoy the Sopranos. I hated to see it end. BTW, you will love the show so much but the ending will piss you off lol. I hated to hear that Tony soprano was no more. Not a chance at any kind of comeback ;-(


  5. I’ve seen the show. And it’s funny how I relate to his character more than to who he really was. From all reports I’ve seen. He was a very gentle and kind man which makes it even more of a testament to his acting…


    1. Yes, I’ve read too that he was shy and not given to interviews and such. It seems many actors and performers actually have introverted personalities. Even Bruce Springsteen, can you believe that?
      I’m looking forward to watching the Sopranos. Thanks for your comment, Diana!


        1. Ha ha..nice pics! But that’s his onstage persona. Remember you said the other day something about how even introverts have extraverted tendencies? In a biography about Bruce it said he would duck out right after his performances and avoid everyone, and any after concert parties, etc. He is also bipolar, actually.


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