Friday, March 27, 2009

360 Degree Character Reviews

Over on his blog Kung Fu Monkey, comics scripter and screenwriter John Rogers shares some terrific advice for developing well-rounded characters.
Occasionally, LEVERAGE writer Albert Kim will regale us with stories of the horrible traditions and kabuki of his previous corporate life. He recently explained the idea of the 360 degree job review. You are reviewed by:

1.) Your bosses
2.) Your peers
3.) Your underlings.

I started doing this as a way to develop characters, and I have to admit I kind of dig it. How does Indiana Jones's boss at the university feel about him? Other archeologists? His students? How about the bad guys? "Major Arnold Toht is the best commandant I've ever had. He never sends us into dangerous situations without also taking the same risk. He is very organized and makes sure we have the tools and resources necessary to serve the Fuhrer. We always go to interesting places, and he really encourages individual initiative. His determination is an inspiration to us all ..."

More fun is a recent bit of development I've been doing for villains and heroes -- flip them. Take a page and write about the villain as if he's the protagonist. I don't mean the anti-hero protagonist, I mean the "I admire this character and want to see him succeed"protagonist. Doing this with even minor characters can open up new interactions. What this does is
force you to come up with virtues for your bad guy, even invent some -- otherwise, he's not a hero, is he? (I recently psyched myself out of using a character as a villain, because I wound up becoming too invested in his non-villainous personal life.).

Years ago another writer taught me a simple exercise -- describe a character, hero or villain, as his best friend would describe him while setting up a blind date. Then do it from the point of view of the co-worker
who hates his guts and is unloading to his wife after work, or finally has a chance to sink him with a job recommendation.
I've used similar approaches in the past, but nothing as comprehensive as what Rogers is describing here. I may have to incorporate this into my outlining process...

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