Characters are like onions

December 29, 2009 at 5:33 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , )

You’ve probably all seen the original Shrek movie where Mike Myers as the title character explains the ogres are like onions, they have layers.  Personally I would have gone with the Donkey in that cakes and parfait both have layers too and they don’t smell half as bad but Shrek was determined to stick to his onion story and not be derailed.

Whatever image you like, the point remains.  Ogres have layers and yet Shrek is probably the least complex character in the story.  Ugly, smelly and bad tempered on the outside and vulnerable and bitter on the inside, with the tiniest centre of sweetness and love that reveals itself just enough that he doesn’t alienate himself from everybody in the story.

All characters (or at least all of the well constructed characters) have layers.  They come with pasts and complexes and unresolved issues and passions and friends and families and they have desires and weird motivations that on some level have to make sense.

Still on Shrek, I just want to quickly look a Lord Farquaad.  People tend to forget about our miniscule tyrant when talking about Shrek.  They mention the dragon, they mention Donkey, they mention Fiona, Gingy, Puss in Boots who wasn’t even in the first movie.  Lord Farquaad is disappeared from people’s minds.  Yet he was my favourite character from Shrek because even though his screen time was limited, as was his height, he made quite an  impression.  Why?  Because he is motivated and driven.  Every other character in the story reacts to events around them while Lord Farquaad takes control of things every step of the way and seeks to use events to his best advantage.  Lord Farquaad isn’t just the villain of the story he is the centre piece that the story revolves around.

Now Shrek himself points out Farquaad’s main problem and that is he is overly short and feels the need to overcompensate but that doesn’t begin to give enough reason for Farquaad’s actions.  Certainly it gives a reason for him to want power.  But he is already in control of the kingdom.  He is in charge.  Why does he care so much about being an actual King?  More importantly, why does he deal with Shrek rather than sending one of his knights after Fiona as he was going to?  Why does he think fairy tale creatures are destroying his perfect kingdom?  Not one of these questions can be answered by saying he is short and power hungry.  Farquaad has more depth than is at first apparent.  It would have been really interesting to find out something about Farquaad’s past.  How he came to be in charge in the first place and what has driven him to the point where we first meet him in Shrek as the gingerbread torturer.

I would love to hear your thoughts:

Who are some of your favourite characters and why?

Writers, how do you create layers for your characters?

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