John Locke: Writing Great Characters

john locke good and evil

Welcome back to our Writing Great Characters series! Let’s dig into the masterful characters of Lost and see what we—as writers—can learn from them.

It’s no coincidence that an award-winning show billed in many lists as ‘the greatest’ or ‘one of the best’ television series ever created, boasts some of the most memorable, iconic TV characters ever created. I’ve always believed that, in any medium, it is the characters which determine its success or failure. And Lost (no matter its polarizing finale) has a lot to offer us writers, about foreshadowing, atmosphere, interweaving plotlines, and recurring elements and motifs, but especially about character introductions and character development.

In this post let’s explore these literary successes through my (and IGN’s) favorite character, John Locke.

When writing a main character, whether it is the main or one of an ensemble cast of mains, you will do him or her justice only by taking the time to introduce him properly, uniquely, and memorably. If you introduce your character with these boons in mind, you will instantly create in your readers’ mind a connection, a sympathetic or intriguing bridge between character and viewer. Introduction, like a hook in your query letter, is key.

In LOST, so far as I see it, because he doesn’t talk in his first two brief appearances, John Locke has 3 introductory scenes. Put together, they create an impactful, memorable character introduction with minimal back-story and dialogue.

3 Fantastic Character Introductions:

  1. We first see Locke in the opening scenes when Jack is pulling a hobbled man out from under some plane wreckage and he asks Locke to help. This is a fairly innocuous scene, but it establishes early on that, unlike Charlie or Hurley or Kate of Shannon, Locke is helpful to the other survivors right off the bat. The fact that he is helping a hobbled man with the wheelchair in the background is also a clever foreshadowing—of course, we don’t know this at the time
  2. The second time we see him is when Kate is filching shoes from a corpse. She checks the size and then notices Locke watching her from off to the side. He smiles. It’s not a creepy smile, but an innocent, ‘hello there’ smile. It’s made memorable because, instead of showing his teeth, the writers decided to have him chewing on an orange. (This character is often shown eating the fruit of the island, a beautiful metaphor of Locke’s character enjoying and embracing his new home.) So when he smiles his mouth is filled with an orange peel, making him appear slightly odd to Kate—which of course, he is.
  3. The third and official introduction of this brilliant character is when the other survivors are discussing what they might eat, and suddenly a knife is flung, impaling a seat cushion inches from Sawyers’ face. The camera pans over to John Locke, who provides the answer everyone is seeking. If I’m not mistaken this represents the first answer offered in the series, and also the first time a character other than Jack takes initiative–and that’s an important theme. Locke tells them they will hunt, and then describes their quarry in detail. This does two things. (1) It establishes him as a hunter, a man who knows how to survive and keep a level head while everyone else panics and is ‘lost’. And (2) it shows that he is part of the group while also being distinct from everyone else—an important motif throughout the series.

And that, my dear fellow writers, is a brilliant way to introduce a character. If you aren’t able to let him fully own a scene first thing in your novel (as when you have a large cast), it might not be a bad idea to employ the John Locke introduction method. Continue reading “John Locke: Writing Great Characters”

Revolutionary Characters

revolution characters

In this Character Series post we’ll be exploring:

  1. The appeal of innocent characters
  2. The pitfalls of fickle characters and
  3. Disappointing character arcs.

Whether by it’s strengths or its weaknesses, Revolution will teach us how to improve our writing skills in the 3 character points above.

In watching the first season of the TV series Revolution, I noticed first the appeal of having innocence in your characters–and secondly the importance of keeping that innocence, or sympathy.

Sympathetic Characters Appeal to Readers

Right off the bat we are led to follow Charlie. She is young and naïve in the brutal ways of the world outside her little agrarian village. One of the things that makes her so appealing and likable right off the bat, and for pretty much the first half of the season, is her misguided naïve belief that there simply has to be good people everywhere, and that everyone has some good in them.

charlie matheson

We as viewers (readers if this were a book) instantly find her appealing for this very reason. We know she is mistaken, and so we are just waiting with rapt attention for the moment when she realizes this, knowing full well that this revelation will hit her hard. And of course, when that moment comes, we feel for her. Kudos to the writers so far.

But then, when she is finally forced to face the hard truth that not everyone is good, and that even she has bad in her, it’s not long before she loses her baby-faced naiveté and abandons all her appeal. She is forced to kill someone. Though she reels from this, she then kills again soon after, and with almost no compunction this time. Suddenly she is fine with killing, a battle-hardened warrior who no long hopes to see good in everyone. In the (whiplash-swift) process she becomes a different character. I suppose some people may like the warrior girl who is not afraid to make the hard choices, but the character arc shifted far too quickly to be believable and MOST IMPORTANTLY Charlie failed to retain any of the innocence that made her likeable—forcing viewers to decide if they like this new character. Naturally there will be some who do, but the writer’s decision here suggests they were

  1. Impatient to conjure a new character or
  2. Perhaps they didn’t like their original creation. Either way, they disrespect their viewers by disregarding established character traits. This is a writer’s mistake, as it will inevitably alienate much of your viewership.

The Pitfalls of Fickle Characters Continue reading “Revolutionary Characters”

Finding Your Niche: How to Write Great Characters

ellen ripley holding newt

At some point in your writing career you will begin to notice your strengths and weaknesses.

Your Writing Niche is Your Key to Success 

You can work on your weaknesses. But at the end of the day your writing niche is what you should be primarily focused on improving, where it concerns your writing, anyway. Your niche is your strength, the feature of writing at which you excel above others.

Some writers excel at crafting intricate, well-laid-out plots. Others are masters at creating tension. Some authors know how to include twists, taking the reader down unexpected avenues. Best-selling novelists like J.K. Rowling know how to create fascinating worlds. A few, like Brandon Sanderson are masters at designing original magic-systems. And there are those authors, like Stephen King, who don’t place much stock in plot because they know they are masters at creating engaging characters.

pretty girl reading in a field

Discover Your Niche

It has taken time but I have come to believe that my strength, my niche, lies in character development.

I love thinking up unique characters, introducing them in exotic or unexpected ways, and developing them through action and interaction. So I’m going to begin a blog series covering all things ‘character’. We’ll focus on:

  • Creation
  • Introduction
  • Arcs
  • Development
  • And the more subtle (and oft-neglected but still essential) areas such as peccadilloes, quirks, unpredictability, and likeability.

We’ll have some fun with it.

deadpool and teenage

We’ll explore these fascinating arts of writing through an exploration of great characters in literature, history, TV shows and movies. Hopefully some of the examples and insights and strengths that I have learned and been taught will prove interesting to you and useful in your own developing career.

To commence this exciting series let’s see what Revolution has to offer us (because I just finished watching it and freshness is next to godliness . . . or is that something else?), and then we’ll jump into LOST, which is a master class in character introduction, creation, and arc.

Character can make or break a book, so developing your skills in this writing asset is key to developing your career. Here at buckelsbooks we’ll discover and learn to employ and master the techniques used by best-selling authors. Looking forward to taking this journey with you.

Hope to see you next time!