Working Methods: 2 + 2 = 7

Here’s a little thing I’ve noticed in shows like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men”. Often times the characters are experiencing emotional inputs, getting requests and advice. All the information needed to come to the right conclusion. And then they go and do something completely unexpected. You start to wonder, what the hell were they thinking?

And that’s the genius of it. It makes the audience think. And after a while, we realize that the action was perfectly logical – for that specific character.

Here’s an example from “The Sopranos“, season six:

The owner of a garbage disposal company is dead, and his son wants to sell the business. Only problem is, Tony Soprano used the place as a source of legitimate income. And so did one of his henchmen, Paulie Gaultieri. So they try to squeeze the kid into selling to someone they know, so they can continue using the place as a legitimate form of income. Meanwhile, Paulie is have huge issues with his mother. When the widowed mother of the kid shows up and pleads for her sons safety to Tony, Paulie has to leave the room, crying in the hallway. This is something we have never seen before, so obviously Paulie, a tough guy all round, is very moved by the widow’s plea for her son’s life. So the obvious conclusion is that Paulie has come to an emotional catharsis and will probably now be a gentler, more rounded character.

But what happens in the final scene, is that Paulie seeks out the kid, beats on his knees with a bat and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t give him a percentage of his earnings every month. Huh!?

Of course, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Paulie is jealous of the kid, because he has a mother who obviously loves him. Paulie wants what he’s got. So he does the only thing he knows how, to get some compensation for his own, miserable life: Violence and extortion.

So when you’re writing, try to think from the character’s point of view, and let them do things you never would have done yourself. Gives the rest of us something to think about. And we like that, right?

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