Characters in Plots

One thing I’ve heard people discussing on message boards is whether Hogan (or any headwriter) is more “character-driven” or “plot-driven.” This is a false dichotomy to me. No soap, in my opinion, is anything but plot driven. How many people’s characters naturally suggest a tendency for amnesia, baby kidnappings, and ex-wives back from the dead?

Still, I know what people are talking about. First of all, do consistent characters even exist, or are they just interchangeable pawns for whatever is happening? Is there any complexity or depth? Does character inform the plot, do the plot happenings raise interesting tensions between the characters, and do those resulting tensions lead to further plot points?

Since James E. Reilly went for plot over character any day of the week, Hogan Sheffer can’t be anything but a step up in this regard. Overall—with what they do and say—most characters on the show remain relatively consistent. There are few moments that make me think “So-and-so would never do that!” (Sometimes I have to fanwank the motivations, but that’s a slightly different issue.) Where Hogan is inconsistent is not in writing people out of character. His problem is that characters shuffle back and forth between being living, breathing complex creatures, and being layer-free cardboard cutouts.

The flatness of his characters is most noticeable in his introductions. The Geek. The Wild Child. The Hooker with a Heart of Gold. The Spoiled Sorority Girl. Personally I loved Nick’s introduction, but there’s no denying he was an over-the-top stereotype. (It helps if you have Blake Berris to breathe life into the character.) I like Stephanie and I think I like Morgan, I liked Willow, but I never would have known it from their first introduction. Hogan must like the idea of creating a strong impression with the character right off the bat, and adding in layers as you go along, but I don’t think that’s a good idea if the impression given is a basic, predictable stereotype—especially a negative one.

The character of EJ is the best example of sliding between the flat, (almost) boring “evil guy obsessed with Sami” and the exciting guy who’s still evil but with complex motives, a family from hell, daddy and brother issues, and a longing for more.

The wonderful character moments that we are given don’t factor enough into later plots, and plots that could resonate perfectly with a particular character’s past are underexploited. Steve and Stephanie had an adversarial relationship for awhile there. If Steve had found redemption through rescuing her, if Stephanie had been forced to choose between believing Steve and believing Jeremy, if Steve and Stephanie had been forced to work together to help someone else—these are all plots that would have used that relationship in an interesting way. An example of an underutilized plot is Chelsea the bad girl suspected of setting the fire at Bo and Hope’s house. Everyone thought she had done it, but then they all changed their minds, for no reason I could see. Torturing a character with a bad past by making them unfairly suspected of something is a great opportunity for growth and/or backsliding for that character. And it could have led to a far more dramatic plot than the one we got. These end up being missed opportunities.

Sometimes I feel Hogan thinks of plots on one hand, and characters on the other, and doesn’t think at all about how they might intersect. And since his plotting is so much weaker than his characterization, this means you have a broken-down jalopy sputtering to keep up with a racecar … well, let’s say a station wagon.

5 thoughts on “Characters in Plots

  1. Interesting point maryp. I agree that at its heart soap is always going to be plot above character, but I really do think that across the board character has been the part to suffer in this ongoing desire by show makers to have everything move faster.

    The time for the characters to breathe within the plot is lost. Days is doing better at it than some other shows I can name – GH – but you’re right, it’s still lacking. I do think they’ve done a relatively good job with making the new characters layered once they’ve hammered us over the head with the stereotype upon first introduction. And if Morgan is anything to go by then I think they’ve learned the “Jeremy and Jett” lesson pretty well. They introduced Jeremy as a stereotype, and then worked back from that but too late. They introduced Jett without a stereotype and then had nowhere at all to go.

    But as you say, as with Nick, a lot of that comes down to the actor and how quickly they can adapt and add their own layers.

  2. It’s interesting how quickly the stereotype can possible change (or last longer than it should like with Jeremy). Morgan in particular has changed a good deal from her first airdate and is a breath of fresh air, IMO.

    And Zara, good point on Jett not having a stereotype (though Marcus Patrick appears to think he represents strippers everywhere) and then knowing what to do. Someone said on TWoP how he was evidentally supposed to represent “Young, sexy white hat” type but the show forgot to add a brain with that image.

  3. I shudder to remember it, but Jett was fairly well liked at first, before MP was revealed to be such a wooden actor and his character was written to be so stupid.

    I agree they’re doing a good job with Morgan, even with the stereotypical introduction. I like her more and more.

  4. I like Nick, he is sympathetic good geek (albeit I think “geek” is a horrible word, it meant originally guy who bites heads from chickens and there is nothing sleazy and creepy in Nick!) I think soap characters never feel like real people. Dialogue, acting, behaviour… I think they are arteficial, like studio exteriors, which may look pretty when asked, but still arteficial. And I think that is a good thing.

  5. Christine, I agree that there is an artificial quality to soap characters which I think is an across the board issue. Their lives lack realism: jobs, money issues, and of course the outsized dramas that are soap opera plots. I would prefer a little more realism myself. The plots can be out there but I like it if I can believe in the character’s reaction to it. Thanks for commenting. And Nick is terrific, whatever we call him!

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