Monday, March 28, 2016

Characters You Hate to Love

With two Trekkie parents, it was hard to grow up ignoring Star Trek.  

We didn't go to conventions or anything. And my parents didn't have the costumes. But several models of Enterprise have adorned my dad's desk since forever ago, and both of my parents are wild about tribbles. 

As for me, I fought the obsession for a while, but have finally succumbed. Hubby & I are drooling with anticipation at the prospect of a new series premiering in JANUARY 2017!!!

But while we zipped through Enterprise & Voyager together in the past year, we're currently slogging our way through Deep Space 9.  *sigh*  We tried to get through DS9 a few years ago and got bored somewhere in the middle of the first or second season. We're just starting the third season, though, and it's finally getting better. 

Today I began to reflect on why we kept watching, because both of us found the first season slow and predictable. True, there's the fact that we're fans of the other Star Trek spin-offs--and that's huge. But brand loyalty will only go so far. For me, the single biggest thing that kept me going back each night throughout the first season was Quark. 

This is him:

Deep Space 9 takes place on a space station hundreds of years in the future. The station was placed at one end of a wormhole somewhere near Earth; the other end leads to deep space (the Gamma quadrant). So all kinds of interesting travelers visit the station. The commander is a black single dad with a teenage son (the first black Starfleet captain!); the first officer is an angry rebel from a nearby planet; and their security officer is a shape-shifter, the only known one of his kind (at first). But it's obvious how you're supposed to feel about each of these characters. In the first season (in my humble opinion), they're often face-value and have few secrets that impact their lives for more than a single episode. 

Quark, however, is the station's bartender, and a member of the fictional race called the Ferengi. The Ferengi are notorious throughout the quadrant, known as profit-grubbing mysoginists with giant, sensitive earlobes. 

So why the heck would a profit-grubbing mysoginist keep me watching a TV show?

That's an excellent question. But he is--against all odds--my favorite character. Unlike the others, he frequently exhibits layers of depth. Though he lives up to Ferengi stereotypes most of the time, he surprises me every so often by hiding a fugitive or giving up a cloaking device for free when he could've garnered a huge profit. He's the character I hate to love. 

This is a good lesson in writing, too. What keeps a reader reading what you've written? Don't underestimate the importance of characters that surprise. Because, even if a reader likes the characters in a book, even if they identify with them, if the character only follows expectations, there's little reason to keep reading. There are no hidden depths for the character to surprise us with. As a reader, I love finding out that a character I wrote off as a good guy was actually working for the enemy all along, or finding out that the bad guy actually has a moral compass that's been hidden inside a troubled past all along. 

This goes double for love interests. Bad guy/good guy fall in love? It's a common theme, but there's a reason for it--it works! Show me a love interest that isn't quite reliable or carries a game-changing secret, and I'm there. I need to know what drives him/her. I want to know whether he/she will overcome this secret and commit to a relationship with someone, or whether it'll be the undoing of them both. 

Show me a character that I hate at first, but begrudgingly am forced to love. Change my mind. Show me depth, little by little. Set me up and win me over. 

I'll keep watching DS9. After all, it made me love a Ferengi. 


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