I love the Geico cavemen. Every time the commercials flash across the t.v., I stop what I’m doing and pay attention. My current favorite is the therapist commercial: Talia Shire listens to a caveman complain about the disrespect he gets from Geico and how the insurance company’s ad campaign is ruining his life. Even his therapist wonders why he’s making a fuss—he is, after all, a caveman. You can feel his frustration building as his Blackberry buzzes….how is he going to change the negative stereotypes about cavemen when he can’t even get his therapist to understand?
I wondered why the Geico cavemen tickle my funny bone. Then I realized it’s because of the contradictions in their character. Metrosexual cavemen are just plain funny and intriguing. A hairy caveman with a protruding frontal lobe debating blow-dried cable television newscaster-bots about caveman abuse gets a belly laugh.
And that’s the key to creating a compelling character. Contradictions. A caveman beating on his chest in outrage–not so funny. A caveman with a Ph.D. in philosophy discoursing about his feelings–hilarious. Cavemen trying to make fire–boring. But cavemen walking through the airport with his tennis satchel–you get the idea.
Building contradictions into characters give you, the writer, somewhere to go when you need to inject what could be a routine scene with drama and tension. This is useful when the type of story you are writing happens to be one that isn’t necessarily life-or-death struggles. Perhaps you want to write a story about a tweenager who wants to be the prom queen. How do you go beyond the stereotype? Just like the creators of the Geico caveman did: they started by looking at the contradictions. Prom queen who is prissy? Yawn. Prom queen who builds motorcycle choppers in her father’s garage? Now we’re getting closer to an intriging story.
Have a flat character who doesn’t add any zip to your story? See if you need to build a contradiction into his character. It’s an easy fix and adds internal and external tension.
About those cavemen. Geico knows it has a good thing going. Their sensitive cavemen may get their own t.v. show. The cavemen have their own website Upwithcavemen.com. Who knew that cavemen had to contend with so much bigotry and hatefulness when all they want to do is lead dignified lives?
I have a deep desire for roast duck with mango salsa right now.