Let's Talk About Tommy
Character insights from All That Is Common To Man
As per the usual, spoilers ahead for All That Is Common To Man.
Let’s start here.
Tommy was a tricky character to write. Usually when writing a character, you’re supposed to focus on what the character wants. Every scene is supposed to get a character closer or further from their goal. But what happens when what the character wants is to take no action?
We often interpret sloth as laziness, but that’s only partially accurate. A closer representation is something like “knowing what one ought to do, but avoiding it.”
Tommy isn’t some awful individual. He’s not really hurting anyone exactly, but he’s also not helping anything. He watches awful things happen around him but chooses avoidance over responsibility. When Rachel mentions concerns over Lucas’s drug use, Tommy lets it slide. When he observes Elisabeth throw the phone into the lake, he keeps his mouth shut. He views the effort of dressing his ailing father as pointless, and skips pants because Edward’s legs will be hidden by a blanket. And when he hears shouts from his father’s room, he immerses himself in music rather than checking on Edward’s well-being.
Tommy knows what he should do, but constantly chooses inaction. I found this difficult to write, at least in an interesting way. My instinct is to have a character DO something. There’s nothing particularly interesting about a character that sits around. You want to tag along on a journey with them. See what happens. But Tommy couldn’t be written like that. If a character does nothing, they should meet a quick end during the editing process. So instead, I created opportunities. For Tommy, there needed to be the possibility of doing the right thing but choosing to ignore it.
Eventually, it all catches up with him. One can only avoid their responsibilities for so long before the check comes due.