What makes a memorable character? As writers we all strive to create memorable characters. Those that our readers can identify with, fall in love with, not want to live without, cry and laugh with. The trick is making these fictional personas come to life. I think a lot about what makes this work. Nothing illustrates this point quite like the surprise and unfortunate demise of Dr. Derek Shepard, aka Dr. McDreamy this past week on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.
Now Grey’s has been on the air for eleven seasons, and I have been a faithful viewer since show number one. There have been major characters come and go before, but the backbone of the show has always been the relationship between Meredith Grey and Derek. Women all over fell in love with the dreamy doctor, so much so that in the second or third season the nickname Dr. McDreamy emerged. The role propelled little known actor Patrick Dempsey into super stardom.The very first scene of the very first show has them meeting in a bar. Classic. For eleven years we followed their ups and downs, highs and lows, love and hate, marriage, birth of children and finding their way together. Just when we thought all was well, BOOM (literally he was hit by a truck) Derek was gone.
What surprised me more than what happened was my reaction. Now I admit I am a softie when is comes to shows and movies. If its a good show I cry somewhere before the end. But this show literally left me sobbing, and sad–for hours! I had to turn the TV off when it was over. The sadness was too overwhelming to watch anything else. How could this have happened? I write romance and we always have happy endings. I so wanted the show to end someday with them living happily ever after.
Even more surprising was when I clicked on the Grey’s Anatomy Facebook page the following morning to find that over 3 million, that’s right 3 MILLION people had done same since the show aired less than 10 hours prior. And the almost 40 thousand comments ranged from sadness and despair to anger and rage. People were SO upset, threatening to never watch the show again. A few days later I saw a petition with tens of thousands of signatures being circulated begging the show to somehow miraculously bring him back.
As a writer all I could say was WOW, WOW, WOW. Shonda Rhimes, despite her current status slightly below the devil himself, had created a character so real that millions were grieving his death. That’s what we strive for. We should all be so lucky!