Let’s take a look at its…
There are 3 areas of concern:
Here, we’ll be focusing on:
In season 1, there is a pervasive general theme of connection.
There are two common ways, in which long form stories tend to express this “identity” theme in the context of connection:
- Establishing Your Character’s Old Identities vs. Their New Identities
- Establishing Character Roles
Old Identities vs. New Identities
When we first begin a story we need to explore the differences and similarities between who a character was before the story began, and who they are now after the story has started.
By contrasting their new identity against their old, you’re establishing a stronger connection, for the audience, to this new person that they’ve become.
You have all of season 1 to demonstrate to your audience who a character is, and who they were. Take your time, let it all unravel until you have a dynamic, multi-layered, individual.
In Breaking Bad, we’re shown a kindly high school chemistry teacher. In the very first episode, he discovers he has cancer. He turns to cooking meth to afford his cancer treatment – to stay alive and provide for his family.
His actions with cooking and selling meth contrast highly with his everyday facade as a law-abiding husband and teacher. Who he was. This contrast connects us, as an audience, to the person Walt has become now that he’s dying of cancer. We connect to and follow this new identity – this man willing to cook meth to make ends meet.
Let’s put our peepers on Mad Men. They did something similar, but in a different way.
In Mad Men, we spend season 1 getting to know Don Draper. Establishing his identity as the stoic and talented advertising man.
At the same time, we are also exposed to flashbacks of Don’s history. His given name isn’t even Don Draper. It’s Dick Whitman. He grew up poor and has a half-brother named Adam. A brother Don now wants nothing to do with. All of this is a demonstration in contrasting the new identity that we primarily spend time with in season 1, with the old identity from before the show began. Don Draper vs. Dick Whitman.
These dueling identities will persist throughout the run of the show, so it has to be established right here at the beginning – in season 1.
Stories have a whole roster of characters.
When you’re first starting out and introducing all of these characters, it’s a great idea to establish for them a specific role they serve in the story. A role they play in the group dynamic. This role connects them in a unique way to the other characters.
Once you’ve established a character’s role, their “identity,” you can then play with that identity later on down the line in other seasons.
We see this clearly in Sons of Anarchy.
Each character has a specific role to play in the club. This role defines them in a lot of ways. These roles establish the dynamic within the organization.
In season 1:
- Clay is the President.
- Jax is the V.P.
- Tig is the Sergeant-at-Arms.
- Bobby is the treasurer.
- Aspiring members are labeled “prospects.”
- The real girlfriends and wives are called “old ladies,” while club groupies are called “crow eaters.”
In a story like this, we see very clear roles defined for the different characters. They’re slotted into those roles. Those identities.
In a less clear-cut way you see the same ideas at work in a show like Entourage.
In season 1:
- Vincent Chase is the famous movie star.
- E is his business manager.
- Johnny Drama is his older brother/less successful fellow actor.
- Turtle is his driver/hanger-on friend.
Within the group, everybody knows where they stand. And for the audience, it gives them a base-line understanding of these characters’ identities.
In season 1, you want to dive in and deal with your character’s identities.