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Community Spec Script Toolkit: Part 3 – Characters

June 20, 2010

The characters on Community are so well established, that an explanation of their major quirks and dialogue patterns would be superfluous—If you’ve seen every episode, you should know each character pretty well by now.  So, I’ll try and limit the character observations to mainly their internal motivations.  I’d also like to point out that the following observations/suggestions are not the only possible directions to take the characters in your spec script.  In fact, you could potentially go against everything I’ve pointed out below and your script could win every fellowship out there.  This is more of a starting point to help get you thinking about how you want to utilize the characters.  Feel free to post a comment and add any of your own character insights or discoveries.

Jeff Winger

Although generally, I consider this an ensemble show, Jeff is quite obviously the main character.  So, it goes without saying that your spec script should probably feature as a prominent character in your A Story.  Upon looking back at all the episodes, I feel as though most of Jeff’s storylines tend to support his learning to be less selfish.  In more than one episode Jeff is given an opportunity to make his life easier, but it comes at the expense of using one of the other group members.  Eventually, his selfishness comes back around to negatively impact him and he learns some minor lesson about himself.  Example:  In “Contemporary American Poultry”, Jeff wanted an endless supply of chicken fingers, so he used Abed’s restaurant experience to his advantage.  Eventually Abed becomes the leader, forcing Jeff off of his throne.  In the end, the study group needed Jeff to regain control, but in the process Jeff learns a lesson about his selfishness.

So, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions when starting your spec script:

  1. What does Jeff want?
  2. How does Jeff get what he wants / Who does he manipulate to get what he wants?
  3. What are the consequences of his manipulation?
  4. What does he learn from this mistake?

Britta Perry

Out of all of the characters, I find Britta the most perplexing.  She emits a strong no-BS-vegetarian-feminist-activist-do-gooder vibe, but I almost feel she acts that way because she thinks she should.  And to her own detriment, she goes out of her way to help people.  For Example, in “Introduction to Statistics” she fakes being hypnotized to make Pierce feel better.  However, when he finds out, he’s insulted and she learns that helping people out of pity isn’t really helping them at all.  Given her abundant selflessness, she works well against Jeff’s selfishness.

If you plan to include Britta in one of your story lines, some possible questions to ask include:

  1. Who does Britta want to help?
  2. How does she help this person / people?
  3. What are the consequences of her charity?
  4. What does she learn?

Pierce Hawthorne

It’s painfully obvious that Pierce’s storylines focus on his struggle with accepting the fact that he’s old and out of touch with pop culture and current trends.  Whether it’s pill swapping, earnoculars, or a Beastmaster costume, he’s just an old guy who wants to be cool.  Pierce is a fun character because his attempts to be cool always seem to involve him purchasing or becoming a part of something odd and filled with comedy—Which is why he’s a great character to include in a scene if you need to amp up the humor.

Questions to ask when using Pierce in your spec:

  1. What aspect of Pierce’s age does he want to compensate for?
  2. What object or activity will compensate for the above, while making him look cool?
  3. What are the “uncool” consequences of his attempts?
  4. What does he learn / accept?

Shirley Bennett

Being a recently divorced, single Christian mom, Shirley is has started a new phase in her life.  Thus, it seems as though most of her storylines are influenced by her desire (or reluctance) to try something new.  In “Comparative Religion,” Shirley wasn’t (at first) very accepting of other people’s religions, but over the course of the episode she learns to accept them, despite disagreeing with them.  In “Introduction to Statistic,” Shirley is excited to be single and ready to mingle at the Halloween Party.  She even stopped wearing her wedding ring.  Turns out that her husband asked for the ring back to give to her new girlfriend, so her desires were really rooted in her sadness at the fact that her husband never came crawling back to her.

Questions about Shirley:

  1. What new activity does Shirley want to try?  OR What old habit does she want to break?
  2. What are the consequences of this new experience?
  3. Why does she really want to participate in this experience?
  4. What does she learn from her experience?

Annie Edison

On the outside Annie’s the tightly wound, former-pill-popper, who’s the study group’s most academically inclined member.  With my limited knowledge psychology and my lack of credentials, my best for Annie’s internal motivation is that she is slowly emerging from the shelter child that she entered Greendale as.  Now, her main objectives tend to favor keeping the study group together and maintaining the group as a family (especially in “English as a Second Language.”  But, as far as her actually learning something, I’d have to say that she is learning to be more spontaneous and adventurous.  In “The Politics of Human Sexuality” we learn that she has never seen a penis (quite the crime for someone who’s #99 on Maxim’s 2010 Hot 100 list).  In “Debate 109” Jeff teaches her to be more spontaneous, which she quickly utilizes by kissing him to help win the debate tournament.  So, in short, you could summarize Annie’s stories by asking, “How can we corrupt this girl?”

Annie questions:

  1. What experience has Annie not yet been introduced to?
  2. Which character(s) force her into this experience?
  3. What are the unintended consequences of this experience?
  4. What does Annie learn?

Abed Nadir

Abed! He’s quirky, witty, smart–and who doesn’t love a guy that communicates almost exclusively through film and television references?  Abed is a great character to utilize when you need to point out the obvious to other characters and even call out the show when it becomes too “sitcomy.”  He’s mainly a supporting character who helps point things out to other characters, but he does clearly strive to effectively communicate with people through alternative means (i.e. his movies and/or with chicken fingers in “Contemporary American Poultry”).  I feel he struggles with “normal” social interactions, so he creates these unique ways to get his emotions/feelings/points across more easily.  While most of the other characters are learning lessons to better themselves, Abed seems to be teaching everyone else lessons.  (That’s not to say Abed hasn’t learned a lot from his fellow study-groupers.)

Abed questions:

  1. What odd quirk or activity is Abed engaging in?
  2. What are the consequences of this activity?
  3. What idea or point was Abed trying to convey?
  4. What was learned about Abed?

Troy Barnes

I’m hoping that season two features more A stories with Troy.  He’s a jock.  He’s not bright.  He’s black.  With a show that has so many other unique and interesting characters, it’s almost surprising that Troy isn’t more unique.  I can’t lie, though.  His character is hilarious and he continually fuels the show with a lot of great zingers (“Someone make her a dude, so I can punch her!”).  Despite his stereotypical-ness, there does seem to be an internal struggle to really figure out who he is and where he fits in.  He went from being a star athlete, to a nobody at a community college; that’d mess anybody’s mind up…at least a little bit.  This is further support in “The Politics of Human Sexuality,” where Abed and Troy compete to see who is the better athlete.  Although he eventually accepts the fact that Abed is more athletic, he struggles to let go of this one trait that previously defined him as a person.  So, for Troy…let’s go with ideas centered around him “finding his identity” (that’s so emo…).

Questions to consider for Troy:

  1. Which one of Troy’s identity traits is in question?
  2. What actions does Troy take to confirm or deny said trait?
  3. What are the consequences of his actions?
  4. What does he learn about himself?

I don’t think it’s necessary to explain some of the other minor characters (Sr. Chang, Dean Pelton, Professor Duncan, Vaughn, Starburns, etc.), but it’s good to keep them in mind.  Each one brings a different element to a scene and are great characters to use when a scene’s humor needs to be punched up.

Again, these observations are not meant to be rules by which your Community spec script should follow, but more of a starting point for you to brainstorm ideas.  And if you already have tons of great ideas, see if they fit into the already established character traits–If they do, then you’re probably on the right track.  If they don’t, then how can you mold your story ideas to feel more plausible based on what’s already been established in season 1.

Also, let me know if these Spec Script Toolkits are actually helpful – I’m going to write them no matter what, but as long as people are reading them, might as well tell me what types of info is and isn’t helpful and what other shows or ideas you’d like to see.  I realize they’re getting pretty long…and that probably won’t change.

Random fact:  I pitched a tent in my basement, today.  Not a euphemism.  There’s literally a tent in my basement…

Don’t forget to check out…

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 1 – Homework

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 2 – Story & Structure

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 3 – Characters

Community Spec Script Toolkit:  Part 4 – The Numbers

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2010 6:23 pm


    I’m currently outlining the beats for my own Community script, so it’s nice to see some other people working hard at it.

    Keep at it!

  2. August 4, 2010 11:54 pm

    this is awesome! thanks for all the great info.

  3. January 1, 2011 10:38 pm

    Hey! I decided to start writing sitcom scripts, like..about an hour ago. I spent a gut-wrenching 15-20 minutes worrying about how I would do it and if it was actually plausible. This helps out a lot! Thank you for writing these Spec Script Toolkits. They are very educational and enjoyable to read.

    -Justin Soileau

    • January 2, 2011 12:14 pm

      @Justin – Thanks! Glad you’ve found it helpful and good luck. Feel free to post (or email) questions that you run into while learning how to write sitcoms.

  4. Rekha permalink
    March 12, 2011 4:43 pm

    INCREDIBLY helpful! All the things you said are definitely buried in my mind somewhere, but it’s extremely useful to have someone just state them clearly (and with order and logic) somewhere. I’d love to read any others that you post.

  5. August 14, 2011 12:04 am

    Thanks for your posts. This is really helpful. Something funny too…I got to the end of this post and read that you pitched a tent in your basement…I laughed because I pitched a tent on my balcony…today! That’s so random.

    • August 14, 2011 12:10 am

      @Lia – Ha, that’s awesome…there’s never a bad place to pitch a tent.


  1. Community Spec Script Toolkit – Part 1: Homework « the [eventual] sitcom writer
  2. Community Spec Script Toolkit: Part 2 – Structure & Story « the [eventual] sitcom writer
  3. Eventual Sitcom Writer 2010 Stats « the [eventual] sitcom writer

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