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Take 5: How ‘Wednesday’ creates a world around the Addams Family daughter

January 17, 2023
4 min read time

For the past 85 years, The Addams Family has been a part of the American life. Originally a single panel cartoon created by Charles Addams, this creepy and kooky family was turned into a TV series in 1964 which ran for 64 episodes followed by a movie and sequel in the mid-1990s. More recently, two animated films were released theatrically in 2019 and 2021. The characters are gothic and gruesome, which include Thing, a detached hand, and a Frankenstein-esque butler named Lurch.

Of all the characters though, the newest iteration of The Addams Family centers on Wednesday, the troubled and gloomy teenage daughter of the family played by Jenny Ortega. She’s sharp, fearsome, wrathful and talks without a filter or regard for feelings. The series follows Wednesday as she enters a boarding school for outcasts, starts having visions of death and must help stop a killing spree.

Here are five things writers can take away from the first two episodes of the new Netflix series Wednesday.

  1. The Essential First Scene

We learn a lot about Wednesday Addams in the first couple minutes of the series premiere of Wednesday. She wears only black and white in a colorful high school world, doesn’t smile and moves slowly down the hallway as people seem to laugh at her, or at least stare with morbid curiosity. She approaches a graffitied locker as varsity jacket wearing jocks laugh as they walk away. It’s in this locker that she finds her brother, Pugsley, was stuffed inside. She wants to know who did it.

“Emotion equals weakness,” she states and then has a vision of the boys who bullied her brother. It’s after this vision that she narrates her choice to keep this new phenomenon that comes without warning a secret.

She then exacts revenge on the bullies in a ferocious manner.

Almost everything you need to know about Wednesday is conveyed in the first three minutes of the series. The viewer knows what she thinks, what she’s capable of and how people view her.

Wednesday is a great example of how to reveal a character to the world, how much information to provide within the scene and get your audience on board. Wednesday is not a likeable character, but she is intriguing and we want to go on her journey. What’s also noticeable is how character-driven the scene is. There is absolutely nothing about the plot of the show – it’s all character.

Another example is the first scenes of Breaking Bad which famously has Walter White (Bryan Cranston) driving an RV in a desert with two bodies in the back before jumping out in tighty-whities.

The first scene forces the audience to want to follow the character on their journey and see what happens next.

  1. A Twist on Classic IP

Puss in Boots. Saul Goodman. Dumbledore. Wednesday. All of these characters were never the focus on the original intellectual property (IP) but have since had movies and television shows about them. Finding compelling characters that could lend themselves to a spin-off has been a possibility for decades - Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill character, originally featured in Breaking Bad before spinning off to his own series, Better Call Saul, is a recent example. But The Mary Tyler Moore series in the 1970s spun off three series of its own and Frasier came from Cheers.

While these examples may not be available to you, there are plenty of options in public domain which lend itself to taking a supporting character and exploring it on your own. You can even update it for modern times like the 2023 release of Renfield is doing by bringing the supporting character from Dracula into the present.

The entire Addams family is present in the Wednesday TV series but the main focus is on Wednesday and her life at the Nevermore Academy. This twist on IP is an example on how you can find exciting characters that have a following, including the wealth of available content that’s public domain. You can even explore some of your own work to see if there is another character in your story you think could be its own main character.

  1. Not Likeable

Main characters don’t have to be likeable in the sense that they are good people with who the viewer would empathize. They need to be interesting though and have reasons why people would want to invest their time and attention to follow their journey.

Wednesday isn’t really a likeable character, but she is a fascinating one. Who she is, what she says and how she acts makes us want to watch and discover how she will change and what she’s capable of in a variety of scenarios.

Tony Soprano from The Sopranos wasn’t likeable either. Neither was Walter White from Breaking Bad. One way to make an unlikeable character someone the audience likes is to give them something the viewer can relate to or give them someone truly unlikeable to fight.

There are characters in Wednesday that call out: Oh, you thought Wednesday was conniving and cruel, wait until you meet this character. In the first scene, anyone who is against bullying can smile at how Wednesday deals with the mean jocks picking on her brother.

  1. Outcasts in a World of Outcasts

Wednesday puts its title character, known as an outcast, into a boarding school filled with outcasts. The intent is to put the lead character into a world in which she can both thrive in a community of her peers and be challenged.

In Wednesday, the Nevermore Academy is filled with similar outcasts but, where Wednesday is a unique human being who is starting to see haunting images, many of the people she goes to school with are a combination of werewolves, vampires, sirens and other types of monstrous creatures in human form.

There hasn’t been this type of exploration in the previous Addams Family film and TV series so it was a choice to create Wednesday as the outcast sent away. Sometimes your characters don’t need to be the fish out of water, but rather the strange person in a strange world.

  1. School Days

Nevermore Academy is a school with many traditions, dorms and classes and cliques. This means there are several ways to relate the community of an academy to the somewhat real world. This allows Wednesday to experience school life in similar ways. Think about Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men series.

Using the tropes of high school is a way to put your character into familiar settings that your audience can relate to: friends, roommates, competitions like canoe races.

Wednesday is now streaming on Netflix.

The show stars Jenny Ortega and was created by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough.


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