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Today, I'm going to talk about novel writing by examining character development on a cable television show: AMC's Breaking Bad. Please forgive me for mixing and matching my media, but good writing is good writing. I have the opinion that if you are a regular viewer of this program and you're a writer, you are basically attending a master's class in the art of character development.

 

For those of you who haven't seen the show, the premise is that a high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, and he realizes his family will be left destitute when he dies. He decides to use his chemistry background to become a drug dealer and build a quick nest egg for his family before he succumbs to the cancer. So here we have a good man - an ordinary, hard-working school teacher - who turns to a criminal trade for the noble reason of providing for his family. What this man discovers is that he has a natural talent for this seedy and dangerous underworld, and this talent extends past his knowledge of chemistry. Over the course of the series, this good man develops a darker persona that shows he's far less noble than once portrayed.

 

In other words, the creators of the program have done something wholly unique in the world of storytelling; they've installed a reverse character arc that takes a protagonist that you root for because he's doing the wrong things for the right reasons and in essence, they turn him into the main antagonist of the story. And try as you might, you're still rooting for him even though he's now doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

 

As far as storytelling goes, that's a bold move. It's rarely done because it so difficult to pull off. In this case, it works for a number of reasons, but primarily it works because the main character, whether he's good or bad, is the underdog in nearly every situation he finds himself facing. It's an approach that I now strictly adhere to in my own writing.

 

I'd love to hear about the writing elements of books, TV shows, and movies that have crept into your own writing style. From where do you draw your writing education and inspiration?

 

-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

 

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Jan 23, 2013 12:33 PM Krom    says:

While we Americans love to root for the underdog when the outcome is uncertain or unknown, I avoid it like the plague when it comes to fiction. Can a protagonist be a true underdog if before reading one word you know he/she will overcome? Since I've yet to read a novel where the protagonist dies in chapter 7, all the suspense is removed from fights, conflicts, hurdles, challenges, etc and gives them an air of forced reality. The minute a protagonist takes a blow and "sinks to his knees gasping in pain", I roll my eyes and start to skip.

 

If the cognoscenti admonish us to avoid cliches, nothing is more cliched than the underdog protagonist. In my opinion, of course.  (-:

Jan 24, 2013 9:08 AM northexpress    says:

I haven't seen the TV program, but I  like the concept of the protagonist turning bad.  Usually I write travel books from my own experiences. Now, I'm working on my first novel, and so far have drawn further (with exaggerations) on my experiences. I do imagine some of my characters as certain actors, and describe them so.