Building Character: The Brain


Not too long ago I discussed some basics on how to build effective characters. I think some specific examples might be helpful to people trying to scribble out compelling fiction, and in the wake of NaNoWriMo, you might be looking back over your work wondering how to improve something. Hopefully, examinations of existing characters might help in that effort.

This week we’re taking a look at the brain.

Your Brain

No, not that brain.

The Brain

No, not that brain either.

The brain I’m referring to is the character on the story responsible for explaining the science or technology behind the problem at hand. In science fiction, this is your science officer. Procedurals tend to have the brain in a lab somewhere working on the forensics to solve the case. Television is a great example with plenty of different brains on display. CSI has spun into three separate shows all about entire teams of brains working on the crime of the week. Bones counters the babble of the brains with the earthy everyman charm of Agent Seeley Booth, who affectionately calls them ‘squints’. Most other shows just have a nameless person to appear and deliver the science.

NCIS, however, is not most other shows. NCIS has Abby.

Abby from NCIS

Few if any shows have given the individual forensics expert down in the lab the sort of characterization that Abby has received. She’s smart, produces results quickly and supports the team any way she can. She’s also a goth, constantly listens to happening music, gives hugs whenever she deems them necessary and drinks down Caf Pow like a fiend. Did I mention she sleeps in a coffin, has all sorts of interesting tattoos, uses ASL and occasionally cuddles a stuffed hippo that farts when squeezed? These are, individually, little quirks, which when put together make for one of the most unique characters in a television procedural, or any television show ever.

The point is, Abby is a brain without being overtly nerdy or socially inept. She breaks the mold of brains that have come before, and shows how a few small things can make a character that would otherwise be more of the same into something truly memorable. When you’re making a character, it can help to list the character’s quirks, along with likes, dislikes, goals and phobias. This works for heroes as well as villains, and is something I plan to explore in the weeks to come.

…No, I didn’t just to an Abby post because she brings in hits like mad, why do you ask?


  1. You know who I dig? Garcia from Criminal Minds. She’s not a forensics person, she’s a hacker/computer expert, but she’s excellent. I think she really makes the show.

  2. I just thought that NCIS is a copy cat of CSI.:~,

  3. Not at all. It’s actually a spin-off of JAG. While it does emphasize crime-solving through forensics, the team dynamic and overall atmosphere are very different from CSI.

  4. NCIS is much better than CSI in my own opinion, it has more drama and twists on the story”‘*

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