TV Writer Paul Guyot talks about character short-hand or, as he calls it, character gadgets. Network and studio development execs love them.
On the new TNT show The Closer the lead character has a weakness for
Take that little gadget away and that "unique" character is suddenly very
similar to several other female TV leads. But network and studio folks like
gadgets. They think it makes the character unique. It’s easy. It’s simple. And
much safer than doing something deeper, or darker, or less mainstream.
It also leads to rampant cliches. How many times have you seen the character who loves junk food? A hundred times? A thousand. I’ve lost count (I remember seeing it in the pilot for THE STRIP a couple years ago on UPN and throwing my dinner at the TV). How about the cop who is a slob? It was old when THE ODD COUPLE was on the air and it hasn’t become any fresher with each new iteration. But character short-hand/gadgets gives a development exec something to latch on to…"Oh yeah, Det. Nick Waters. I get him. He’s the hard-nosed cop who actually spends his free time ballroom dancing. That gives the character depth, levels, shading. Yeah, I like Nick. He’s got an edge."
Not a real edge, or any tangible depth, just a quirk that’s easy to grasp, that quickly defines the character for the development exec. (And not just development execs, but editors, too. How many loner cops have you seen in novels who love classic rock music, drink too much, and are estranged from their wives?) The danger is when weak writers start relying on those quirks as a replacement for developing an actual character. And I see that happening more and more…
David Montgomery expands on Paul’s thoughts, talking about writing gimmicks in mystery novels and offers this great advice:
Gimmicks lead to a "sameness" in writing, making a particular book sound like
every other book you’ve read. As a result, gimmicks diminish the author’s
individual voice and style. They also have a tendency to take the reader out of
the story, disrupting the flow and rhythm of the book.
So here’s my piece of advice for the day: if you find yourself using a
gimmick in your writing, stop it! Be creative instead. Be original. Think about
the problem and figure out how else you can solve it. Find a way to
make the plot work, or to get the reader the necessary information without
resorting to a trick or cliche.