Diana Black: Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World

by Diana Black

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night …I’m just busy… No, you’re wonderful but.…”

A great story idea, well-written script, skillful cast and crew with an intelligent director and showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, now going into its 7th Season SOOO interesting and compelling to watch? And not only by adolescent nerds but by, for all practical purpose, everyone?

According to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”, it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?

In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction, and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring TV and screenwriters may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed Washerwoman etc. But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package.

We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accouterments that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

But is that all there is to the Game of Thrones characters? Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secret to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature, to the hilt, everyone one of them has a level of complexity that makes them seem real and as a result hated, feared, loved, reviled etc.

We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next. ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues, and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of my story here is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page.

The quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is for the writer, as well as the actor, to get under the skin of the character; to become that character, for better or worse.

The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)