Jayme Woods

Writer. Geek. Adventurer.

Warm Bodies and Writing: The Importance of Secondary Characters

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When I mentioned zombies in my last post, it was just to give my sister a hint about her birthday gift:

kayce's gift 3

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized writers can learn a lot from Warm Bodies. An entire post could be devoted to the differences between the book and movie, but for this post I’m going to focus strictly on the movie. Specifically, I’m going to focus on the importance of its supporting characters: Nora, M, and Perry.

At first blush, it’s easy to think the magic of Warm Bodies is all about R and Julie. They are, after all, the main characters. However, I’d argue it’s the characters around them who really sell the story and, in many ways, endear R and Julie to us.

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Take Nora. Sure, she fulfills the stock role of sarcastic best friend, complete with zippy one-liners and a makeover scene for poor unsuspecting R.

makeover edited

But Nora’s most important scene, to my mind, is one of her very first, when R and his zombie buddies ambush Julie and company. Why does it matter? Because, later in the movie, when Julie tries to fight her way out of a zombie infested airport with nothing but a weed eater, we might ask ourselves: why now? If she’s such a fighter, why not fight earlier, when she was much less outnumbered? One quick pan to terrified Nora, cowering under a desk, and we understand.

Nora edited

Julie goes with R to save her friend. This sacrifice immediately makes her more sympathetic without compromising the tough-girl side that makes her so awesome throughout the rest of the film.

Much like Nora, R’s best friend, M, instantly ups the humor ante. He also lays the groundwork for the ultimate redemption of the zombies. One scene in particular always kills me. In it, M talks about regaining his memories. His mom. Summertime. Then, like it’s some profound revelation, he adds:

cream... of wheat edited

The first time I saw it, I died laughing. Let’s be real, I still do. But, as trivial as it sounds, this was a profound revelation for M. He’s been so lost for so long that he’s completely forgotten what it is to be human, right down to the tiniest (and most hilarious) details. It’s this reignited glimmer of humanity – something we’ve already seen blossoming in R – that allows us to forgive the zombies for the otherwise unforgivable things they’ve done. Like eating people. Which brings us to…

perry edited 2

I’m probably going to catch some flak for this (yes, I’m talking about you, sis), but in my opinion Perry is the linchpin of Warm Bodies. Our opinions of R, Julie, and their entire romance rest squarely on his shoulders. Why? If he’s too unlikeable, we’d never believe Julie would put up with him. She’s tough. She’s hot. It’s the end of the world. She’s got to be getting other offers. We have to believe she and Perry have something special enough to fight for. Even though Perry is broken and pushing her away, we see him in flashbacks being a boyfriend worth having, possibly the first guy to ever tell Julie he loved her.

BUT – and here’s why I say Perry could’ve ruined the whole movie – he can’t be too likable. As the audience, we have to believe sweeter than pie Perry is gone, replaced by an apocalypse-wearied soldier. We have to be able to forgive R for, well, eating him – and we have to believe Julie would too. Otherwise, the whole movie falls apart. Ten minutes later, when Julie’s falling for R, we wouldn’t feel warm and fuzzy. We wouldn’t want to root for them. We’d be outraged.

retail therapy edited

That, my friends, is the magic of supporting characters. Sometimes they cower under desks or muse about breakfast foods. Sometimes they get eaten. But through it all they hold the story together and, in the case of Warm Bodies, make it an incredibly fun ride.

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Author: Jayme

Hi, I’m Jayme. I write MG adventures, adore glitter, and watch way too many Disney movies. If you like pirates or robots or aliens or ninjas, we’ll get along just fine.

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