contradictions of character: the good kind

Tim Riggins. Ah, Tim Riggins. It’s like someone reached inside my subconscious and constructed the perfect teenage boy to break my teenage heart.

But enough about me.

Friday Night Lights is (mostly) masterful when it comes to character. The show is built around the marriage of Coach and Mrs Coach, which aims somewhere between a very realistic portrayal of actual marriage, and a kind of über-marriage that we can all aspire to. There are so many moments between these two that are so pitch-perfect it gives you tingles (or a goofy smile) to watch them.

I think part of what makes their characters so brilliant is that they are full of contradictions. My teacher recently spoke about this idea – that you don’t only want to know your character’s attributes and backstory and personality and motivation, you also want to know in what small ways they are contradictory. It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about before, but it works like a crazy thing.

Take Tim Riggins, for example. He’s bad enough, hot enough, oblivious enough, boyish enough to be the stuff of fantasies. But the moment that made my infatuation official was this:

He’s been punished for something-or-other by having to help out at the girls gymnastics competition. It’s a local thing, very low-budget, very much outwith his usual spectrum. The guidance councillor walks in to check on him, and we see his frustration – with having to be there, we think.

“How’s it going?” she asks him.

“It’s terrible,” he replies. Okay, we think, of course he find this terrible. This is Tim Riggins, for god’s sake. Then he adds, “We’re only getting an 8.6 – they’re kicking our ass.”

You do not expect him to invest anything in amateur girls gymnastics. The fact that he does makes him utterly irresistible.

And, as I think is probably true of most contradictions of character, at a deeper level it’s not contradictory at all. It’s very true of his competitive spirit, but mostly that drive is obscured by his bad behaviour. So in a way it’s a moment where we get to see him clearly – we get to see a sign of the life below the exterior. Which is what good writing’s all about.

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About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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