Can we talk about character development? 

I’ve always envied the people who continue to read ‘the classics’ after high school. The art history friend nannying in York that can quote David Copperfield, the art house cinephile you almost dated that can’t get enough of Philip Roth — these are the kinds of ‘bookish’ people I’m talking about. 

I’m educated. I have an unhealthy obsession with morning newsletters. But I am a grown adult that has an impossibly hard time finishing a book. I’ll read biographies, history novels so dry they’re practically a smaller version of a Pearson textbook, but I don’t really like fiction. ‘Readers’ who don’t know me seem impressed. I prefer factual novels over indulgent stories. I wish I could join a book club and get giddy over Reese Witherspoon’s favorite picks of the month. But try as I might, I can’t. 

Or rather I couldn’t until very recently when I discovered a little red thread connecting the few fiction books I adore. This is going to sound annoying. I’m sorry. But it’s true: 

I will only put up with a story if the characters are worth it. (And it falls into one of about five hyper-specific topical categories, and it was written after 1900, and I like the cover, and it’s not too scary, and it’s witty … but that pickiness is mostly beside the point. The point is that great character development is the baseline requirement for me and stories.)

I don’t have to like the characters. I just have to respect them. If the author is fully committed to them, then I’m there for their rise, fall, fatal end, reincarnation, whatever. If the characters are forgettable then forget a thrilling plot, I fall off. 

I’ve realized I have a similar relationship with TV shows and in fact movies. Maybe this explains why I know nothing about Marvel hits. 

All this to say that I have fallen head over heels for The West Wing AND The Bonfire of the Vanities. 

This re-trending TV show and time-stuck tomb grip you with descriptive dialogue. There’s no need to paint the scene when you can see straight into a character’s psyche based on the way they speak. The juxtaposition of incredibly consistent patterns of thought thrown into new situations is what makes for great satisfaction. 

There has to be some way to translate this power into personal branding. 

When an agent continues to remind us of their consistent expertise across all situations, it’s comforting, gratifying and memorable. Rockstar real estate agent Jeff Saad is a great example of this. His charisma across his multifaceted career consistently stands out. He’s genuine and yet a master of character development. You trust that he will charm you, fill up the room, and mesmerize any audience with a rapid-fire balance of insight and no-nonsense. Like C.J. Cregg in The West Wing, Saad caters his message to any environment yet tonally his pitch stays the same. 

So, as you think about your own personal brand, what does character development mean to you? What values, styles of speaking, themes, etc. are unwavering consistent in the way you speak and present yourself? 

For too long I’ve wanted to be “original.” In practice this has meant constant reinvention and rejection of current opinions and obsessions for upgraded ones. In 2021, I’m leaning into repetition and redundancy. 

It’s the things after all that we do on repeat – some would call these things habits – that define us. And while I always want to be improving, I also want to deepen in the things that make me me. 

So, cheers to character development and reading more nonfiction in 2021!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (the movie)

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