Plot Complexity vs Character Complexity

PlotVsCharacterWriting Family Pants stories, I studied lots of TV, as well as comic strips and comic books. Taking a closer look at TV, you’ll find comedies that are character driven. Ordinary everyday situations we can identify with being ridiculously blown apart by the antics of extraordinary characters. Or you’ll find procedural shows, where identifiable everyday characters are solving extraordinary situations, such as a bizarre Las Vegas crime scene. In the procedural show, a fantasy element is the exciting situation. In the comedy the fantasy is being glad you’re not married to the bumbling husband!

In both cases the characters must be interesting, but not necessarily likable. No one would want George Costanza, Archie Bunker, Jack Benny or W.C. Fields as a close friend, but put them in a story and we’re interested to see how it comes out.

Balancing plot and character, you’ll find the more complex one is, the simpler the other. In a popular gangster show, “The Sopranos”, Tony Soprano can spend an entire episode eating prosciutto, and almost nothing happens, yet we intensely watch, wondering what he’s thinking and speculating what he’ll do next. A simple plot, but a complex character. Contrasted to a gangster story from the 1940’s and you’ll find one dimensional cartoonish characters involved in a spider web plot. He’s sleeping with the boss’s lover, who’s angling the boss to save her thief brother, who’s stealing from the boss’s top henchman, who’s angry at the Boss for not permitting the brother’s death because he’s protecting his lover’s sibling and our hero is caught in the middle! Whew!

So you have interesting everyday characters doing the extraordinary in a procedural show or interesting extraordinary characters doing the ordinary in a character driven show. Sometimes the plot is thicker than the characters and sometimes visa versa. But always the characters are interesting.

Although comedy is mostly character driven, you’ll find watching classic Tex Avery, Tom and Jerry or Road Runner cartoons, gags are procedural in nature. Just as you start from a grisly murder and work backward to determine how your team solves the case, you start with a crazy ending “snapshot” with your hero glued to the ceiling in a chicken outfit and work your way backward as to how he got there in the first place.

So I’ve concluded that Family Pants is a procedural comedy where characters fumble over each other in a comedy of errors to a climatic knot. The plots are thick and the characters are interesting yet could be summed up in a word (which in this case happens to start with the letter “a”):


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3 Responses to “Plot Complexity vs Character Complexity”

  1. Strip Website Launched! « Family Pants Blog! Says:

    […] of my idea of what comic strips can be can be read in my previous posts, Plot Complexity vs Character Complexity, Comic Strips and Shrinkage, and Ensuing Complications in the […]

  2. Condonation Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation đŸ™‚ Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Condonation.

  3. familypants Says:


    You know, I’m wondering if I DID have a point!

    But what I was getting at is that when you write a story, the more complex the characters are, the simpler the plot has to be. And the more complex your plot, the simpler your characters have to be. I’m not sure this is a rule or simply because you wouldn’t have time to indulge in both… unless you have a 8 hour movie or a 1000 page novel. And in the world of postage stamp sized comic strips, you don’t have room for a smiley face and 1 word, much less a introspective characters involved in a spider web mystery!


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