As my sit com script heads into major re-draft, the advice from all angles is the same: it’s all about the characters.
The situations may be inherently funny, but often the real comedy value is in putting extraordinary characters into ordinary situations – and watching them flail.
To get a good grasp of character, I turned to a new book my in-laws bought me: Successful Novel Plotting by Jean Saunders.. While perusing in the tub, I came across her POV on character profiles. She used the example of her daughter and issued a string of random knowledge to encourage familiarity with the “character”.
However, I don’t do well with random. Therefore, I codified her example thus and named it “Saunders Character Profile” (catchy):
Open with a unique fact.
Age, marital status/dating habits and progeny. Physical trait, personality trait and occupation.
Personality trait, personality trait, and career history/aspirations. Vices and social life. Hobby, hobby and hobby.
Holidays and travel. Relationship with friends and family. Tastes in film and television. Outward projection, internal truth, and reaction to crisis.
And added my own favourite elements:
Plus greatest fear.
Plus anecdote from personal history.
Now, for my own example:
Michael builds gadgets and doesn’t understand The Internet
He’s pushing retirement and never had a serious relationship since his childhood sweetheart, Glenys. He favours Fifties fashion and Fifties ideals, with a long career of doing not-a-lot for the Royal Society under the guise of mechanical engineering.
He is socially awkward, despises modern technology and wants his OBE. He drinks whiskey, smokes a pipe and sits at home of an evening with the paper. He builds time-saving devices and weaponry out of whatever comes to hand, enjoys a good cryptic crossword and frequents wine-tastings.
He mopes alone at Christmas and hasn’t left Britain since National Service. He has a few college friends to whom he writes letters and no surviving relatives. He never goes to the cinema and infrequently watches documentaries on a black and white television. He gives the appearance of a man stuck in the past and is inwardly terrified of change and losing the only life he knows. In crisis, he builds a bigger gun.
His greatest fear is dying alone with no legacy.
Michael’s biggest regret is that he never married Glenys. She wanted to run away to Gretna Green; he wanted to finish his science project. She ran off with a hippie.