Inspiration from Sitcoms: Characterization – Lesson I of V

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

It’s no secret that I learn a lot about life (and pop-culture) from sitcoms. I re-watch the same sitcoms over and over again because I get something different from them each time. It really is a learning experience for me. Lately, I’ve been noticing how much I can learn about writing from watching sitcoms. Today’s lesson comes from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. The character to study: Ron Swanson.

swanson-pyramid
Nick Offerman’s character Ron Swanson, is Parks and Recreations’ most manly character.

 

Ron Swanson is a man’s man (whatever that means, right?). He is a lover of meat and a hater of all forms of government. Ron loves working with his hands and being in the outdoors. He dislikes talking to people and giving out personal information.

While simple enough to describe Ron Swanson, the beauty of the description is in the execution of it at every opportunity. Any time there is a chance to reinforce who Ron Swanson is at his core, the writers of the show take it. For example, if another character asks Ron how is he doing, he replies with something like “present”.

Why “present’? Well, Ron hates giving out any personal information whatsoever. Apparently, how someone is doing at any present time is personal information. Ron never wants you to know how he is doing, and he certainly doesn’t care how you are doing. On the show he once boasted that he worked with someone for many years and never learned his name. Then he proclaimed that man was the best friend he ever had. Even when taking photographs, the only description he allows is the word “man”.

While this is an extreme take on characterization (after all, it is a sitcom), it is a good lesson to learn. As a writer, it is your job to make sure that your characters are consistent with the persona you have created for them. If they’ve deviated too far from it (and without reason) then it is your job to correct it. Once you have developed your characters properly, they will let you know what they would do in different scenarios. It is your job to make sure that they do.

What is your most developed character like? What is your least developed character like?

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