Ditzy/Dumb-Ass Characters

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

We all have our favourite dingbats...er, make that characters. Who can forget Suzanne Somers of Three’s Company? Cutesy, air-fairy, sweet-natured Chrissy, who makes a toddler look smart. And Don Knotts, to whom everything is a major deal. 

And then there’s Edith of All in the Family. Even she makes Chrissy look smart, which brings me to acerbic Archie. With the amount of insults he throws Edith’s way, I kinda wonder what attracted him to her, but then the sitcom came from someone’s imagination. 

Anyway, I digress.

Remember Richard Moll who plays Bull Shannon in Night Court? Huge, and dim as a ten-watt bulb, he’s known for his frequent mistakes.

On screen, these characters add much to sitcoms. They provide comic relief for the audience, especially when juxtaposed against an actor with a keen wit.

In fiction, it ain’t so easy to create palatable not-so-smart people. They wear on readers quickly. I haven’t attempted to write one of these ditzy characters, but I lift my hat to the writer who can pull off this feat without exasperating readers.
In Contraband, I wrote a wayward character who always got into dangerous situations from which his cousin had to rescue him. One reviewer commented that he was tired of him as he was taking up too much of the hero’s time. While I appreciated that reader’s viewpoint, I also had to show the caring/responsible/take-charge side of my MC and his cousin was the way to do that. 

 Downright silly characters  sometimes feel as though they’re taking up space that can be better utilized. We walk a tightrope between providing a contrast for one character and creating a sideshow that becomes an annoyance to the reader.
Do you ever write these slightly-less-than-sensible characters? If so, how do you keep them from maddening your audience?

Useful links:

Steamed Dukunoo
Steaming Dukunoo
All Tied Up With String
The Jamaican food of the day is Dukunoo (sometimes called 'boyo', but don't ask me why). It isn't something that's commonly eaten these days, but it was a staple for the runaway slaves (aka Maroons) who lived in our mountainous terrain. As the Maroons had to hoof it regularly to avoid being captured by British soldiers, they  found ingenious ways of keeping themselves fed. Dukunoo (of African origin) is a steamed, sweet, cornmeal concoction that's kinda like a boiled dumpling. The corn meal thingummy is rolled and tied up in a banana leaf and then steamed in hot water. I can't say I've ever had this, but some people swear it's delicious. Sweet potato is sometimes used as a variation. Dukunoo is spiced up with vanilla, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sounds lovelier than it looks, doesn't it?.


  1. There he is! Bull! As soon as I saw the title of thise post, Bull from Night Court came to mind.

  2. Not everyone pulls this off well. I want to cite an example that still rankles me whenever I see it (and it's from film but a related medium). Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels is awful. He's a ditzy stupid character and reduced the serioiusness of the franchise so much that the first movie is nearly unwatchable despite some really amazing fight scenes and a strong plot.

  3. I loved Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin or how about Fred Flinstone and Barney. Ha ha ha, I think you can pull it off if the main character is human enough and does't take himself to seiously.

  4. I love a good, ditzy character. You're completely right...they add a lot to a show if used appropriately, and even to books, too! Great "D" post!

  5. Diane, I guessed I picked the correct sprinkling of characters to illustrate.

    Michael, I just came from your blog where I learned all about atomic bombs. :D

    Siv, I enjoyed Fred and Barney too!

    Sarah, thanks. Some ditzy characters do work well.

  6. Gomer Pyle and Dougal from Fr. Ted, came to my mind when I saw this heading.I have never attempted to write characters like this.

  7. I loved Bull! Edith annoyed me...poor thing. I haven't attempted to write a character like this, but should I ever - I'd like him/her to be a little like Kelso from That '70's Show. Funny, daft, and moments of unexpected brilliance! :)

  8. I've never tried writing that type of character and I'm not sure I could do it well. But your post did make the idea intriguing!

    Ellie Garratt

  9. Ooh, interesting. I've been trying to think of ditzy characters I know in literature, and I'll have to keep thinking. Great ideas here :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  10. Great imaginative post. I love eating different kinds of food too, and I was just writing about Jamaican food today on my Letter J article.

  11. Ann, I believe it's a challenge I'm not quite up for yet.

    Donea, more than anything else about her, I found Edith's voice annoying.

    Ellie, as we say here, nothing beats a trial but a failure.

    Sarah, thanks for sharing.

    Tony, I'll make sure I come by for letter J day.

  12. I like ditzy characters on TV, but for some reason I don't seem to like them as much on the page. weird. anyway i am loving that dukunoo!

  13. You have pointed out an interesting thing about those ditzy characters on TV vs on the page. I don't much like them in books either. Makes me want to throw it across the room. Huh.

  14. I've never tried to write characters like that - I think it would definitely be a good challenge to see if you could keep the reader interested.
    Mmm, that dumpling sounds good!

  15. I think annoyance is a personal issue. For instance, one of your readers above said she loved Jerry Lewis with Dean Martin. Jerry Lewis drove me crazy. I found his character so annoying I almost couldn't watch him. I think writers should write what they want to write, because not everybody will like the characters they create, and not everybody will hate them. A word about your food blog – I had never heard Dukunoo, so thank you for the lesson ;) My A-Z Challenge for the day is here: http://myheartblogstoyou.blogspot.com/2011/04/when-your-daughter-develops-dont-do.html

  16. Aah Night Court. I miss that show!

    I'd have agree with some of your other posters...I like it on screen, not so much in reading. I can't think of too many books I've read with truly ditzy characters.

    And those pics of food? Thanks! Now I'm hungry. :)

  17. Nutschell and Kari, I understand well. Thirty minutes with a dizzy character is a lot less time a 300 page book. :)

    Deniz, yep, that would be a real challenge.

    Theresa, we have such wide and varied taste that the film makers will always be happy. :)

    Heather, thinking about it, and from the responses, doesn't seem like too many writers attempt to create silly characters.

  18. I love these characters of mine -you have to give them endearing strengths. Like loyalty or unbreakable optimism.

    Great post!

  19. ditzy characters indeed.


    Dukunoo, love it, you make me feel hungry.

    what a funny/yummy post on D.

  20. One of the great ditzs of all time was Gracie Allen--if you ever get to hear vintage radio shows, she was a genius. George Burns whole career was based on her loopy humor.

    I tried to write several novels from the point of view of that kind of ditz--one who was really smarter than everybody but had a ditzy way of getting her way. Elle in Legally Blonde is one of the few that's been successful. Well, Bridget Jones is kind of a ditz, too. But mine didn't sell. I wonder if this is the reason. Very insightful.

  21. I don't know any of those shows/characters, but you've gotta love a good ditzy character sometimes :)

  22. Dukunoo - that actually sounds really good. Interesting.

    I don't tend to write many 'annoying' characters. But only because they annoy me so much that I usually end up killing them off fairly quickly.

  23. Well said, Joy! I've been trying to think of ditzy characters I know in literature, and I'll have to keep thinking. Great idea by the way! :)

    Dukunooo, I am reading your post while waiting for my lunch, this makes me hungrier! :D

    Have a great day!

  24. I don't know any of the TV characters you've mentioned, but I can think of ones very similar. And you're right: the type of characters that amuse us in a sitcom would just be irritating/stupid in a novel. I really do admire any author who can successfully write a ditzy character! (I haven't tried...)

  25. Great selection of characters to illustrate your point! :)

  26. Alison, our characters do tend to become near and dear to us.

    Jingle, one thing I've discovered since writing this is the fact that I haven't come across any of these characters in the books I read.

    Anne, the ditz has really gotta be something special to make a big hit.

    Trisha, they do shake things up a little. :D

  27. Doralynn,

    That's a good strategy to keep the annoying ones under control.

    Mezo, thanks for stopping in. Hope your lunch came quickly.

    Rachel, I wonder it it would be too exasperating to even try writing a character like that.

    Margo, these were the outstandingly ditzy ones that came to mind. :D


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