Monday, June 6, 2011

Gran Torino Characterization

When my husband drove my daughter out on an adventure this weekend, and after the other two were tucked in bed, I took advantage of the rare free time by watching a movie. We already own Gran Torino on DVD, but it was on TV and I got all swept up in it. It blew me away. This time around I paid attention the adept characterization.

Things I noticed that could easily be applied to writing:

Flaws make for realistic and sometimes more likable characters
Characters emotionally hooked into something captivate
When this emotional investment leads to action we begin to root for the character
A cost involved helps move the story along
A positive trait showcased in one person contrasted by the absence of that trait in another is a clever way to reveal motives and the hearts of unique characters
Natural tension is necessary to portray as relationships build
Characters must talk the talk by acting genuine to culture, class, ethnicity, and situation (etc.)
Humor has the power to bond unlikely characters
Characters acting in unexpected ways (unpredictable at times) feels oddly realistic and is rewarding for the audience

It’s an intense movie, one I’d watch again. I know a movie or a book is pieced together well when I’m still thinking about it days later. Gran Torino goes beyond simply starting a conversation with its characters. This movie keeps the questions turning—continuing the conversation.

Can you think of a movie or book with phenomenal characterization?

"Over and over I feel as if my characters know who they are, and what happens to them, and where they have been and where they will go, and what they are capable of doing, but they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad." Anne Lamott

*Blogger seems to have improved with comments, though I’ve gotten a few emails with answers to my Moving Thoughts Friday (which brought a huge smile to my face…that there are those who would work to keep the connection going like that).

**photos by flickr


  1. I just finished listening to The Help on audiobook and absolutely loved it. I'm a Yankee and never dealt with the racism like what was depicted in the book, but the characters stayed spot on through the course of the book. Their flaws helped me love or hate them. One character was nasty to others, but adored her children. I liked that contrast. Her friend was nasty to her child, but sucked up to others. The different POVs helped me to get to know the other characters without large info dumps.

    One of my all-time favorite TV shows is NCIS because of the terrific characterization. The ensemble cast are unique in their own traits and flaws. I use that show as a template to help create my own individual characters.

  2. I saw that it was on TV too but I didn't watch it then because I didn't want to jump into the movie after it had already started. But I really do want to watch it soon!

  3. Can you believe I've never seen it? Heard a lot of good things about it though. Great tips, girl!

  4. I read Karen Witemeyer's third book, To Win Her Heart, recently. Her hero, Levi Grant, is an awesome character, one who will stay with me for a long time to come. He's got a shameful past he's trying desperately to overcome, a speech impediment he works to hide, and an intense desire to become a better man. Though flawed, he's sooo likable. If I could write a hero as endearing some day, I'd be tickled pink. =)

  5. My husband also says Gran Torino is really good. I'm going to have to watch it! I have three historical movies on deck before it, but Netflix, here I come.

  6. Okay, don't laugh at me. I was just recently pondering the movie Two Weeks Notice (w/ Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock). See, I told you you'd want to laugh.

    It's a goofy romantic comedy, but the characters are so far on opposite spectrums of the universe that the viewer wonders how on earth they would end up together. Sandra's character is just hilarious and she's got all sorts of quirks, one of which is a tendency to overeat when she gets stressed, and it lands her in the bathroom of someone's RV in the middle of rush hour. I mean, what writer thinks that up? Funny stuff!

  7. For anyone interested, im having a writing contest.......My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.

  8. I need to watch this movie I think! Your points are all good ones. And I agree if a movie or books stays with you then it was well written:)

  9. Wendy,
    I have never seen (or even heard of before now) this movie. But, I am rewatching Braveheart right now. There's some good characterization!

  10. I loved that movie, Wendy. It stayed with me and moved me too. You're so right about flawed characters. They're so compelling.


  11. Gran Torino does have fascinating characters! Although I found the movie disturbing. It's not the kind I'd watch more than once.

    The BBC production of Pride and Prejudice has great characters, too.

  12. Wow, I've never even heard of this movie. Must check it out!



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