While working on film music I’ve started to notice that a lot of movie characters have odd habits. They continually comb their hair, pop breath strips, or are concerned with astrological signs.Sometimes these odd habits feel tacked on, sometimes they don’t. I’ve concocted a simple test which can help a writer decide if an odd habit is working:
Does dropping the habit from the character affect this scene? If not, then it’s tacked on.
I know this sounds obvious, but it seems to work.
Here’s an example where the quirk is essential: Melvin Udall’s OCD in As Good as it Gets. His OCD drives conflict throughout the film – it causes his isolation (and thus his anger towards everyone), it drives his need for Carol to be his waitress (which causes him to hire a doctor for her son), and he has to overcome it in order to care for Simon’s dog.
Here are 2 scenes from the movie – can you imagine them without the OCD?