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07/04/2007: Viva Bautista
Though Friend-of-the-blog Kate, I have received this very good question from Gentle Reader Katie in Los Angeles. She says:
"I've been working on a Dexter spec. I came up with a b-story that I really like, that is thematically linked with Dexter's a-story in a lovely, subtle way. The problem is that the b-story focuses on Det. Angel Bautista, who is sort of a third-tier character on the show. My instinct was to give the b-story to Dexter's sister Deb or Sergeant Doakes because they are more prominent on the show. However, the story is working so well I hesitate to throw it out for purely analytical reasons. What do you think are the possible benefits/pitfalls to featuring prominently a character that usually plays more of a supporting role on the show?"
Well, the pitfall is obvious: the person who ends up reading the script might not know the character. I recommend that you beef up the stage directions when the character first appears, to remind readers who it is you're talking about. That should do it.
And, as if the teeny pitfall wasn't enough encouragement, there is also a large benefit to what you're doing, Katie. Bringing a background character to the foreground can be a really good way of making your spec different from others in the stack, and, more importantly, of demonstrating the skill of character-deepening, which is highly valued. In fact, I know a show runner who made it his policy to focus his spec scripts, back when he needed them, on under-utilized characters on purpose, in order to demonstrate this exact skill.
It's easy to fall back on what we've seen established characters do before. Sometimes you might be patting yourself on the back for having "nailed" a character, when all you've done is recreate something they've already done. If you can give them new "colors," new behaviors, attitudes, actions that we haven't seen before but that seem right given what we have seen, you've done something really important that provides a good indication of what you'd be able to do on a writing staff. Good work.
Lunch: spaghetti with vegetarian chili on top