Piecemeal Manifesto – Entry #6 – Need Characterization Help? Watch The Breakfast Club
Everything I learned about characterization and introducing characters I learned from this three and a half clip, the opening of The Breakfast Club. In fact, start the clip at 1:07 and end it at 2:48. It’s a masterclass in a little over a minute and a half.
I mean, look at what you get in that clip:
Claire’s first line–“I can’t believe you can’t get me out of this.” Brian’s resigned sigh when his mom says, “Well mister, you find a way to study!” Andrew’s big lunch bag, and being told no school will give a scholarship to a “discipline case.” Bender barely stepping out of the way of the car, but not breaking stride. Allison bending over to say something to her parents, but the car pulls off instead.
Add in what the characters are wearing and you know those characters–their attitudes, their family situations, their status–in the first two minutes of the film. That’s damn impressive. Yes, John Hughes has the benefit of film being a visual medium, but there’s nothing in that scene that couldn’t be described in a novel very, very quickly.
How do I relate this to my writing, specifically? Well, when I introduce a character, I make sure whatever they’re doing in that scene, what they’re wearing, and what they say shows a lot about them. In the opening scene of DON’T GET CAUGHT I introduce my five characters (Yes, five in The Breakfast Club, five in DGC–it’s no coincidence) using a lot of what you see in the clip. Max, the main character, acts nervous; Ellie is overly enthusiastic; Wheeler jokes around and says inappropriate things; Malone is skeptical and a tough ass; and Adleta mostly mumbles and looks threatening. Sure, there are levels to these characters that are revealed in the novel, just like is done in TBC, but you have an honest and helpful first impression, which is vital.
Immediate Homework: Go look at the first appearance of your main character in your current work-in-progress. Does how the character looks and what the character says and does say anything about them? And, probably most importantly, do you show these qualities without telling the reader about them?