So what does Clifford the Big Red Dog teach about characters? Lots. You only have to watch this show two or three times before you have a ridiculously clear picture of everyone's personalities. Like so:
- Clifford: Big, friendly, always tries to do the right thing.
- T-Bone: Shy and wimpy, but sweet.
- Cleo: Loud, kind of obnoxious, gets the other dogs into trouble a lot.
- Emily Elizabeth: Sweet, helpful, loved Clifford so much he went from a tiny little puppy to his giant self.
- Jetta: Emily Elizabeth's friend, a total snot, selfish, thinks everything she does is more important than everything anyone else does.
- Mr. Bleekman: Emily Elizabeth's grouchy old neighbor, dislikes Clifford because he's messy/large.
...and you get the idea. Now these characters may not be as layered as a normal person, or a character you'd want to write in your book, but the fact that I (or anyone) can so easily distinguish them from one another is really telling. And it's not because other characters say, "Jetta was snobby." Or "T-Bone was wimpy." No, it's because it shows me.
For example, there's an episode where Jetta invites her friends over and has them each bring their favorite movie to have a movie marathon. Her friends all want to watch the movie Emily Elizabeth brought first, but Jetta says no. First, they're going to watch a whoooole mountain of home videos. Of Jetta. And she gets annoyed when, hours later, the others are all giggling at something Clifford's doing outside the window rather than raptly watching her childhood triumphs.
And that's not all I've learned from Clifford (I know! Who knew the benefits of PBS?) See, there's also the occasional episode where someone acts WAY out of character. And when that happens, I think, huh? What's going on here? Like in one episode where Mr. Bleekman, who is always crabby about Clifford, even over the littlest things, is only mildly upset about the fact that Clifford--who misses Emily Elizabeth, away on a trip--is howling and howling late in the night. He goes with the rest of the island to comfort Clifford, and seems more confused ("What the heck is that noise??") than disgruntled ("Argh Clifford RAGE.") which doesn't mesh with the person who gets annoyed because Clifford eats too much food.
And it pulls me out of the episode. Not that I'm deeply invested in each Clifford episode, but if this were, say, a YA novel, I wouldn't be thinking about the plot anymore - I'd be thinking, "Why is that character acting so out of character?"
So there you have it. Some food for thought, courtesy of Clifford the Big Red Dog.