But, having created over 40 characters for one show alone, I’ve realised that some of the characters people initially love turn out to be the hardest to find stories for. The attraction to a character can actually be just a surface trait, or a design quirk rather than being a really well-developed character who will lead to many good stories. Some characters get exhausted rather quickly, whereas others remain fun to write forever. And when they’re more fun to write, I’m pretty sure they’re usually more fun to watch.
Here are a few examples of Fluffy Gardens characters easy or tough to write for:
PAOLO THE CAT
Everyone took a shine to Paolo early on and children really respond to him when he crops up in other character’s episodes.
But, beyond his initial series 1 episode, Paolo was very difficult to write for. The thing is, because he is set up as being so clever, he’s a living deus ex machina to any story. Can’t solve a problem? Go to Paolo and ask him! He’s a ruiner of good stories. So in series 2, you’ll see Wee Reg the Puppy immediately jump to the idea of asking Paolo about rainbows – but Paolo isn’t in (he’s out buying milk) because, if Paolo is in, the story ends there and not in a very interesting way.
Of course, what I came to realise is that part of what made Paolo so endearing in the first place is how insecure he is about his own talents. I made use of that in a series 2 episode that became one of my favourites.
Still, Paolo wasn’t easy to write for.
THE SMALL GREEN THING
Another very popular character with children. But let’s be honest here, even the word ‘character’ is stretching it a bit. He’s cute, he’s green and he squeaks.
Part of the challenge with this character is that I achieved what I wanted to say with the Small Green Thing in the very first Fluffy Gardens episode ever aired – Paolo the Cat. In that, I show that even though he is small his help can make a big difference. I feel that’s a strong message and I delivered it and then the poor ol’ Small Green Thing became tough to write even just as a guest character. Nevertheless, he remained popular among fans of the show and I think he’s an example of the importance of simplicity. In ways, it’s sometimes easiest for us to relate to the blank slate characters because we can project ourselves on to them.
MAVIS THE PONY
Mavis, on the other hand, I could write a thousand episodes about. She is one Fluffy Gardens character who could easily carry her own show. She is no (please excuse this) one trick pony. She is very careful (positive?) but that makes her nervous (negative?), prone to panic (negative?) and unwilling to take chances (parents could see that either way depending on just how many scrapes their children get into). So her main trait, being careful, instantly results in a whole bunch of conflicts without her even having to do a thing. And, as most of these Fluffy Gardens character traits lend themselves to moral tales, Mavis exists in a grey area because it’s easy to argue that being careful is a good thing and equally easy to argue that taking chances is a good thing.
To add to that, she has hay fever and Michael Maloney’s voice delivery makes her sound like a female Irish Richard Nixon, which I love.
So Mavis can be thrown into just about any story and be entertaining, often very funny but also come out of it having learned something about the merits of being careful or the exact opposite – about taking chances.
As a result, you’ll see there are more series 2 episodes about Mavis the Pony than any other character. She was just too much fun. I had to keep writing Mavis stories.
Early on when pitching Fluffy Gardens, many people asked me ‘could you just make the show about Paolo the Cat?’. If I had, the show would have wrapped up after about three episodes. What we perceive as character is often much simpler than we imagine, and other times much more complex. But of this I’m pretty certain – there is a lot more to making a connection with children than character. It is just one layer in a far larger creation.