For those of you who don’t have their fingers on the pulse of quality television, a universally hated character was killed off last night.
There was rejoicing all over the internet. People were psyched that this actor pretended to die on their screen.
But things go further than that. If you were to see this actor on the street, you would probably feel hate bubbling in your stomach with volcanic intensity. You can’t separate the character from the actor.
Skyler White- one of the most reviled characters on TV. Not to be confused with actress Anna Gunn.
This association is the product of two things- the talent of the actor and the skill of the writers.
Seeing this on-screen death and the resulting internet excitement has made me realize how important it is to write convincing characters. Characters that makes the audience suspend disbelief to the point where they forget there is any disbelief at all.
Intellectually, this may seem obvious. But it’s another thing to internalize.
We try to make our characters seem as human as possible. A lot of the time, writers miss the mark. Sure, we write believable characters, but they don’t inspire reactions that make the internet explode with rage or adoration.
There’s got to be some kind of secret recipe to make an audience connect with a character.
In cases of hate, it seems that the best course of action is to keep villains safe from karma’s clutches. No matter how bad they are, how depraved or violent they become, have them get away with it. The longer they go causing harm, the more audiences will despise them and become emotionally invested.
With good guys, it’s a little trickier. Anti-heroes are vogue. Think about Walter White. Frank Underwood. Donald Draper. These are not good men. Some would call them fucking sociopaths. It’s complicated as to why audiences like them. They’re in on their secrets and want to see them get away with it. Maybe some love to hate them and want to see them fail.
Then there are the Ned Starks. The ones who are good to a fault, whose morals lead them down the path of destruction. Audiences become invested in them because they so desperately want to see them succeed in the face of insurmountable odds, knowing in the back of their heads it’s hopeless.
What resonates with an audience is an impossible thing to predict. It’s a ghost. Something that only exists in retrospect.
But it’s clear that success lies in writing characters that audiences can become emotionally invested in, either through loving or despising them.