Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So, about that Spartacus

Yesterday I posted a picture of three lovely young men from the TV series Spartacus: Blood & Sand. And I'm so very glad you all enjoyed looking at them. I enjoyed looking at them too, on screen, sometimes wearing even less than in the pictures.

But it got me thinking. What was it, apart from the muscular naked men and the cartoon violence that kept me watching all series? (Yes, there is an answer) Well, the series did follow one valuable writing lesson that sometimes I forget:

Every character thinks he's the hero.

Put simply, nobody thinks he's an extra. Everybody has their own agenda, their own motivations, their own goals. Goals that shift and change with new circumstances. And it's these goals striking and sparking off each other that make for really interesting conflict--and not just the kind with sword and shield.

Spartacus, for example. To begin with his goal is to repel invaders and keep his people safe. Then, after he's forced into captivity, his people killed and his wife taken from him, his goal is to regain his freedom and find his wife. After the death of his wife, his goal is simple: to find out who killed his wife and get his revenge. When he discovers who was behind her death, and that there's no simple way to kill him and escape, he becomes the Spartacus we all know from legend: the man who slaughtered his masters and led a slave rebellion. And all of that comes from a few simple, primal, personal goals.

But what about the other characters? Why has Spartacus been taken captive and why has his wife been killed? Why does it become more difficult for him to simply slaughter his way out of the ludus and not care if all the other slaves are killed (which they would be, if any one slave harmed his master)? Spartacus probably has the most simple of goals and motivations, but it's complicated by the friends and enemies he makes.

It would take far more than one blog post to explain the various schemes and entanglements in the series, and it took more than one watching of each episode to understand them, probably because I got distracted by all the muscular naked men. But when you have a ludus full of gladiators, all planning or hoping for freedom but all subject to the whims of their master ad his friends; slaves who are planning their own schemes for freedom or at least a little cash; levels of Roman society all jostling for power and position and not really caring whose throat they have to cut to get it--then you have a lot of entanglements.

But while the series is called Spartacus, probably every character in the series thinks it ought to be named after them. For the amount of plotting John Hannah's character, Batiatus, does (did I mention John Hannah is in it?) he probably reckons there's going to be a TV show in 2,000 years called Batiatus. His wife, who wants her husband to be rich and powerful (and is possibly the only character to really include someone else in her aims) but also to have her bit on the side, probably thinks the show is called Lucretia. Neither of them consider Spartacus to be much more than a cash cow. Why should he have a series named after him?

Well, for one thing, that boy looks good naked.


  1. Thanks for the great advice, Kate! It's important to make all our characters well rounded, with their own goals and motivations.

  2. I seem to remember hearing it from Jennifer Crusie, the advice that every character thinks he's the hero. It's something I have to remind myself of quite often.