Simple Hooks For the Audience: Character Contradictions
Hooking the audience is the most important thing any story can do. Your story can be wildly unconventional in every way, as long as it keeps the audience’s attention from start to finish. But sometimes, it can feel like doing something dazzlingly bold and original is the only way to capture an audience.
The recent Netflix Original Series BODYGUARD is a show that’s garnered a lot of attention recently. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it serves up a classic, meat and potatoes narrative with rock solid story and character fundamentals.
The main character, David Budd, is excellent at his job, but terrible at his private life. That’s the essential character hook for the protagonist. It’s there from start to finish in the pilot. The show opens with a tense sequence where David abandons his kids to be watched by a stranger (terrible at his private life) so he can courageously stop a suicide bombing (great at his job).
Having made it through this life-or-death sequence, where one wrong move would easily have resulted in his death, David goes to see his estranged wife (the two are separated, but not divorced).
In the previous sequence, David shows an uncanny ability to know exactly what to do. He knows just the right words to say to calm the suicide bomber, talk down the trigger-happy responding cops, and so on. He navigates the dangerous situation flawlessly.
But in visiting his estranged wife, David misreads her signals and goes for a kiss. She recoils, he realizes his mistake, and their encounter ends horribly. David gets assigned to be a bodyguard to the Home Secretary, does an excellent job, and then drunk dials his estranged wife late at night.
David’s fundamental contradiction fuels the show. It makes him a realistic human being with flaws. It makes his courage and intelligence at his job a redeeming facet of his persona. And it sets up the bigger narrative plays the show has coming in subsequent episodes (no spoilers here, but suffice to say David makes some bad personal decisions).
It’s such a simple device, and it works so consistently well. Challenge your protagonist with a contradiction that’s fundamental to who he or she is and you may find a hook that’s surprisingly straightforward to implement.
What characters do you think effectively hook the audience and how?