So, I just caught on to this TV series called “Blindspot” where a woman wakes curled up in a large duffle bag, doesn’t remember who she is, and her body is covered in cryptic tattoos. Sounds pretty interesting, huh? I thought so, and I’m still working my way through the episodes.
One of the main characters is FBI Special Agent, Kurt Weller, whose name is one of the tattoos on Jane Doe’s back. He has a traumatized childhood where his best friend was abducted when he was ten years old. His father was convicted of the crime but denies it to this day. The two do not speak.
Today, Weller is a reserved, no-nonsense kind of guy. In the first couple of episodes, I thought the actor who plays him did a fabulous job of portraying the resulting scarred personality. A couple more episodes in, one death-defying situation after another, we realize that his best friend may be closer than he thinks. His expressions, reactions are the same in each and every new case.
Now, I’m starting to care a little less about what happens to him. Does he eventually get his best friend back? I hope so. Do I care to follow him for the entire journey? Maybe. Maybe not. I already know what his face will look like as he reacts to any critical news (furrowed brow, frowning stare), what he will say (short, clipped answers, firm commands). The few outbursts are flat and seemingly out of character. As of now, I am more focused on Jane Doe, who is not only mysterious but has so many layers hinted at to be discovered that I am enjoying being held in suspense.
So how, as a writer–book, screenplay, or otherwise–do you created a stoic character that keeps the audience’s interest and not become just another warm body this side of barely living? What makes any story interesting is not only the captivating plot but the characters who move the plot along. We relate best with those who struggle, and cheer when they triumph. We feel their sorrow and cry their tears. We exhale in relief at their escaping danger or potentially terrible news. How do we achieve this with less extroverted characters?
Small, discrete gestures – picking up a picture frame and looking for a long moment (shows longing/regret/despair), taking a moment to collect oneself in a side room (shows vulnerability/emotional threshold), shedding a private tear. These short glimpses into their intimate moments show us complexity, keeps us hoping that all is not lost. Their stoicism is only a façade hiding a depth of character we have yet to see. Elaborate dialogue is not needed, nor would it be in character for a closed-off personality.
Keep the hope alive! That’s the motivation behind character development. People can be stoic and reserved—not everyone is a social butterfly—but keep us guessing. Make us crave speculation. And since this is fiction and all, artistic liberty is a given. Make it work to your advantage and create indispensable characters we would hate to lose. And if you do end up going all George R. R. Martin on us, more pain just means you were successful.