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14/10/2019: 3-Character Dynamic TV Shows

Without a Trace

This week's OPINION BLOG talks about 3-character dynamics and character development and progression.

For a few months, I’ve been binge-watching an old TV series, Without a Trace. I’ve loosely followed the career of Eric Close (Martin) for approximately 15 years and was pulled into WaT because of the calibre and reputation of his acting (and, dare I admit, his looks). He is a really versatile actor, not just the pretty face he’s often cast for but an actor with depth too. His story line was interesting over a few but then it felt like the writers moved on. I read an old article with him saying he wished he’d been given a story line that allowed him to smile more. He has an amazing smile which switches on charm instantly but smile aside, his lack of meatier storyline lost me.

Because Martin’s story line moved to one side, it highlighted the acting and story line of Danny (Enrique Murciano). I’d seen him in one small part years ago when he played a nasty piece of work on one of my favourite all-time shows, Enterprise (Yeah, I’m a Trekkie). Talk about hold it against him! It clouded my opinion due to his portrayal of a character with grotesque morals. It’s quite unfair, I realise, but the weird part of me totally believes these characters are real people – just as I totally believe my own characters are real.

Then Danny did something very clever. Over two seasons (4 and 5?), he turned my utter dislike for him into my inability to stop thinking about his acting. Thus, an opinion blog was born.

His character development has been, for me, the biggest asset of the show. Generally, Danny is too quick to react, is still young enough to be reprimanded and has a very strong back story – unlike the other characters which are all a bit meh - plus he has a unique vulnerability about him. He had a sense of mischief and a temper that you often don’t see coming. In short, he is predictably unpredictable – a particularly useful trait to have in this kind of show.

Added to Martin and Danny, Jack, played by Anthony LaPaglia, who usually plays unpleasant tough guys but in this he is a smart-mouthed thinker. I love his one-liners so much so that I listen out just for them – I swear some of them are ad-libbed. He is sarcastic and cynical, all the things you might expect from a wearied law-keeper plus he’s protective of his team but not so protective that he won’t take them to one side if they’re not performing. It’s this trait that keeps Danny in line and the dynamic of these two men is enough reason to watch the show.

That’s the ‘three-character dynamic’ I like looking for. In groups, there is often 3 characters who bounce off each other as if they’re one being. As the only 3 guys in WaT, maybe they had no choice?

Then the 3-character dynamic altered as Elena (played by Roselyn Sanchez) arrived. Her character developed rapidly and believably. She and Danny enjoyed a storyline which, as a writer of relationships, I focused on (and Jack’s one-liners). Elena removed the 3-character dynamic enabling the team of now 6 to work together. However, watching Danny develop from a cold, arrogant young man into a seasoned agent-in-love was the biggest gift from an 8 season show.

Character progression in TV shows has to be quick yet believable often due to funding insecurities for another season to be given the thumbs up. With books, however, we have a longer opportunity to get that development across within the minds of the reader using pages alone rather than visuals. Of course, the two mediums are vastly different yet share so many similarities.

It’s worth looking at character development within TV and the big screen in addition to your characters as it brings forth another dimension of personality traits that you can apply to your own characters.

In future opinion blogs, I’ll give my thoughts on 3-character-dynamics other TV shows. Leverage and Seal Team are two I have planned the moment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your TV show characters vs your own writing ones.

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