A posting today on Facebook by Disney Pixar struck me as being very appropriate, and timely. It was a quote by Ralph Eggleston, an art director and animator at Pixar, who came on board during the development of Toy Story. I don’t know anything about him, but his quote sums it all up concisely:
“If you start from the character, everything else will follow.”
I am certainly no authority on character or story development, though I have done both with Olive the Woolly Bugger. In addition to the work I’ve done, I’ve also read articles about character development, and what constitutes a great character.
An excerpt from an interview with Michael Maurer, a screenwriter with an impressive resume for work he’s done on animated projects for film and television, says it well:
“Besides having a unique personality and some endearing character quirks, one of the most important things is that we (the audience) can relate to the character and his situation or his goals, and how he goes about dealing with the challenges that face him throughout the story or the series. Take Bugs Bunny – why is he such a likable character? In part, it’s because we can relate to him.”
Read the entire interview and article HERE.
A great character may be able to carry a sub-par story on their shoulders but I prefer to think that if you start with a great character, it will spawn (to cleverly use a fishing term) a great story.
When I created the character of Olive, I honestly didn’t sit down with a checklist of personality traits and construct her using that criteria. Who she was and would become happened organically, and by that I mean she grew on her own without me consciously trying to mold her.
Let’s look at some of the traits that make Olive a great character:
She’s likeable. Olive is sweet, a bit naive (at first, anyway), and endearing. She’s loyal to her friends and empathetic toward those whom she encounters.
She’s relatable. We’ve all faced some of the same situations that Olive faces. We can identify with her because she is us.
She works hard. Olive works through adversity as she pursues her goals (which are many and varied as the stories progress). Through determination she perseveres.
She’s humble. Even when she champions the day she is never a braggart. She knows from where she comes and appreciates any successes she has.
She’s perceptive. Olive may not have all the answers, but because she is willing to listen to others and the world around her, she finds answers to questions, even some questions she didn’t know she was asking.
She is unique. The above character traits are who she is, but what she is also makes Olive a great character: she is a woolly bugger. Those who know fly fishing know the virtues of the woolly bugger fly. Those who have no previous knowledge of what a woolly bugger is will like the name for what it is—something that sounds as if it were made up for a children’s story or animated film. And as a woolly bugger, she stands alone. Nobody has ever brought a fishing fly to life, at least not that I’m aware of.
When I fish a woolly bugger I have confidence that the fly is going to produce, not because I’m a great angler but because it’s a great pattern. Similarly I have confidence that Olive will land a Big Fish because she’s a great character.