Homosexuality as a character trait

Posted: April 23, 2011 in All, Movies, Prose, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Just watched part of “Praying For Bobby.” I say “part of” because it didn’t hold my interest long enough. That’s not a damning criticism; I have the attention span of a gnat.

But more to the point, I found the characters difficult to believe (which is funny since it’s based on a true story), let alone care about.

The first and most glaring problem was Bobby.

I remember reading an article about gay celebrities. The advice given to them was “If you don’t want people to talk about you being gay, make yourself more interesting than your sexuality. Give them something else to talk about.”

And that was the problem with Bobby. He had one character trait: He was gay.

Granted, the whole point of the story is a gay young person (failing to) come to terms with his sexuality conflicted with his religion.

OK. He had two character traits. He was gay, and he was also very Catholic.

Now, that kind of dichotomy raises an interesting internal conflict, but one we just didn’t see enough of in the movie. Maybe a novel could reach those depths, but not a 90 minute movie. Or maybe not this 90 minute movie.

His opposite number was an overbearing mother, one that you’re only slightly more likely to encounter than the mother from “Carrie.” The mother was arguably the main character.

And when they argued, they spouted out lines that seemed like they were talking points of either camp: Her quoting well-worn scripture versus, and him shouting “I can’t choose who I am!”

But anyway, I didn’t care about the characters because there weren’t any characters there, just talking heads.

What I Learned: It’s difficult to have an extreme (the mother) be the main character. Some of the Sherlock Holmes stories were told from Watson’s point of view, after all. Sometimes it’s more interesting to have a middle of the road character react to them.

I was much more interested in Bobby’s distant father, or his protective big brother. These people weren’t as extreme, and so I was always interested in what they were going to say. I wasn’t surprised by anything the mom did. She was too extreme. She did exactly what I expected.

The father and brother were very religious, but not all fire and brimstone, and so I always wondered what they were going to say.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If you’re writing about a minority portion of the population (like people with autism https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/autismaspergers-isnt-a-character/), you don’t do them any justice by making them token minorities. A character has to be more than just gay to be a three-dimensional character.

What I Learned: Be sure to make your character more than just gay. Let’s say you have five characters: Mark, Tony, Bruce, George, and Tyrone. If you think of Tony, and the first and only thing that pops into your head is “Tony’s the gay one,” then you’re doing it wrong. Give that character a third dimension.


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