Characters have Secrets
Grey’s Anatomy has me captivated again. Since first premiering on ABC in 2005, I’ve got thirteen yeas of writing experience and I’m watching the show in a whole new frame of mind. A writer’s mind. And thanks to Netflix or Hulu, I don’t have to be patient for another season to begin. Binge watching is extremely inspiring for a creative soul.
The characterization in this medical drama television series is brilliant and addictive. This show is the perfect example of developing depth in fictional characters. One of the ways you can make your characters leap off the page is to give them secrets. Real people have secrets. We have things buried deep within us that we’ll never tell. What we say out loud is not always reflective of what we may be hiding inside.
You’ve probably heard the story craft tool of throwing everything at your character. Conflict keeps the plot moving and holds the readers’ interest. As authors, we are all border line sadistic when it comes to the things we put our characters through.
Let’s look at the characters and their secrets in the show Grey’s Anatomy:
Meredith Grey: central protagonist, is hiding her mother’s illness, who was a brilliant surgeon herself, and is sleeping with her boss while trying to succeed under her mother’s shadow.
Izzie: feels unworthy of her smarts and success because she grew up very poor in a trailer park.
Christina: sleeping with her boss and she has an almost unhealthy obsession with cutting people open.
Dr. Burke: begins a romantic relationship with an intern.
George: is secretly in love with Meredith and is extremely smart, and not the goof-ball that the world sometimes sees.
Alex: cares deeply about his career and relates to patients on a deeper level, as opposed to the A-hole, shallow attitude he sometimes displays.
Dr. Webber: Surgery chief hides a medical issue with his eyes and had an affair with Meredith’s mom when they were in medical school.
Dr. Shepherd is married and does not tell his girlfriend Meredith, who is an intern.
That barely scratches the surface as the show develops, but you get the idea. The fun part is that we know their secrets as an audience, and we can’t help but watch to see if, and when, they will reveal all to each other. It’s very entertaining and can be applied to the characters in your books.
In season 2, Izzie prepares a Thanksgiving meal for everybody. She explains to Dr. Burk that she wants just one day where they can be normal and act like everybody else. Dr. Burke mumbles, “A day without surgery.” That one line says so much about him as a character and about the entire theme of the show. You have to watch carefully and pay attention to those one-liners. When I first watched the show every week thirteen years ago, I was caught up in the medical issues of the patients. Now I’m focusing my attention entirely on the characters.
As an added bonus, Shonda Rhimes explains her writing process and development of the series at MasterClass.com.
Happy writing, and thanks for following WordSmith Six!
I, too, have become addicted to Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. Several seasons into it, I’m particularly impressed with the turnover of characters. Periodically, a fresh crop of interns comes in, each with his or her own backstory and drama. There are only a few constants throughout the whole series, such as Meredith, Alex, and the original Chief.
That is a great observation which I had never realized- new interns. Much in the same way for writers who write series. The introduction of new characters brings new conflict. Thank for commenting!