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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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”