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    April 25th, 2010Jane EspensonOn Writing

    So I watched another episode of Community last night, and I realized something wonderful and deep about the way complexity of character interacts with theme. More complex characters = more precise themes. Okay, maybe it’s not that deep, but it is wonderful.

    The episode had to do with Jeff realizing he’d lost his position of authority over the group. Thematically, it was very similar to the episode I talked about a couple weeks ago, that was about Jeff resisting a challenge to his inflated perception of himself. Similar. But not identical. One was about needing to be in charge, the other was about needing to project coolness. And that’s marvelous, because if you can write your episodes with enough focus that those become distinct character flaws, then you get two great precise stories instead of one mushy one about Jeff feeling usurped in some general way.

    When you’re looking for a story to tell, you may want to think of it as looking for a way to provoke your character. Look for their weaknesses, but do so with precision. This may lead you to despair that you haven’t created a complex enough character, but that’s okay — the secret is that it’s stories like this that CREATE character. If you don’t know how your character would react to a very specific provocation, then this is your chance to find out and tell the viewer/reader about it. You’ll look like a genius and your character will grow.

    The other really good trick that the writers of Community use is that it’s never just one character acting out. Get two characters provoked at once, spurring them into actions that put them in conflict and you’ve got a lot of activity — with all of it coming out of character. Beautiful!

    Lunch: I was a baby shower where I ate many exciting cheeses, veggies, chicken satay and a delightful scallion pancake!

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