Monday, May 10, 2010

Writing Lessons From "30 Rock"

Tina Fey is one of my favorite writers and performers and I have a theory about why her character on 30 Rock, Liz Lemon, works so well.

In comedy there are two basic types of characters: the straight man, who reacts to everybody else, and the wacky one, who gets to do ridiculous things. Liz Lemon is both, depending on who else is in the scene with her. For example, when she's in boss mode and has to corral the talent on the show-within-the-show, she's often exasperated and deadpan, but when she's in employee mode and heads upstairs to Jack Donaghy's (Alec Baldwin) office in the corporate arena, she's a bundle of quirks and physical comedy. She's three-dimensional but never contradictory.

Nobody is just "one thing" and I think viewers relate easily to Liz because A) we all think of ourselves as weird or nerdy and B) we also think other people can be worse.

Do your characters change when they interact with different people? Does their language and behavior reflect the differences?


  1. I love how self-deprecating Tina Fey is. I too was puzzling over 'why' the character works and you've got it spot on mate - she switches between the 'zany' and 'straight' roles depending on who she is with, yet Jack does too. Sometimes he's curbing her insanity and sometimes she's curbing his. Their friendship is my favourite thing about it ; )


  2. Fun blog! Great post, I love me some Tina Fey, though I must be honest I've only seen one episode. Luckily you don't have to watch the show to enjoy the post! I believe that depending on who your characters meet is more than possible that there attitude or opinion will change, there are a ton of chameleons out there, I don't personally want to be one, nor am I but they exist.

  3. Kirsty, you are so right about Jack, and how they curb each other's insanity! And the fun thing about Liz is that we get to see her in little wacky flashbacks, too.

    Jen, thanks for reading and commenting! :) Hope to see you around.

  4. I try to accomplish this and it is a really important concept .. but there have been times when I've made my characters too one-dimensional. They always end up needing lots and lots of rewrites!

  5. Hi Tess, I think it's one of those things I've got to remind myself each time as well.