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Character Development: Devil in the Details

By Patrick Kirkland · August 31, 2011

"Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred."

It's a freakin' drink order. That's it. I order drinks all the time. But not once does anyone go around quoting me in a Southern Accent:

"Just water, please."

So why, in all of the cheesy lines that are all over Bond films,  ("Now the whole world will know that you died scratching my balls.") do we obsess over this: “Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.”

Because we, for once, get a glimpse of who this masterminding, womanizing, gadget-carrying super-secret-yet-well-known Double-O agent is. It's a drink order, and it's a small detail, and it matters.

Picture a man who's a killing machine. He has the best weapons and gadgets at his disposal, all with one intended purpose: to get the bad guy. This guy is a sharpshooter. A guy that can take anybody out, anywhere in the world. What kind of drink do you think this guy would have? Bourbon? Beer? Something harsh and Russian that burns on the way down? No. Instead, it's a…

Martini.

Now picture him at a party, with his fingers wrapped around the small stem of a martini glass, pursing his lips to sip from the wide round bowl. Immediately, your bushman view of him spins to a cultured, refined, continental high roller. For a glass that's constantly associated with women drinking cosmos, you can probably assume this guy is good with the ladies. A man who's comfortable, not in a guerrilla warfare outfit, but in a tux. One who probably is navigates the high-class crowds, because you just don't order a martini in a two-dollar tequila bar. Moreover, it's…

Vodka.

The normal martini is smooth, with the subtle spice of the gin. A bouquet of herbal essences reaching your nose. But this isn't your normal martini. This is vodka. Typically flavorless, and with a bite. Which means in this drink, you're tasting the vermouth. You can take it down quick. Maybe instead of enjoying your twelve dollar drink, you take it for the quick vodka buzz and the burn down your throat that keeps your lethality sharp. And we can't forget, it's…

Shaken, not stirred.

What's the difference, and why does it matter to Bond? With the standard martini, the drink chilled when you stir the ice. You don't bruise the gin. But with vodka, you just want it cold. The colder the drink, the easier it goes down. This drink looks high class, but sips like a roadster.

But why does it matter?

Is a drink really that important? Well, you tell me. The drink is now famous. To actually describe what it is seems pretty ridiculous, unless you put it against who the Bond character really is. For years, Bond was a flat character, always the same choices, always the same lines. But the “Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred” is a detail that gives him something extra, something unique, something unforgettable. So clearly, the devil really is in the…

Details.

It's the details that make memorable characters.

These are the little touches that allows the character on the page to come to life. What would your character do? What would they drink? Vodka or gin? Bourbon or scotch? Ale or Pilsner… or orange juice? The difference may not lie in the arc of your story, but it lies in the detailing of your character, both in the writing and in the experiencing. If they're the type of person to drink a martini, maybe they're the type of person to wear a tux. To go to party. To get the girl. Even kill a man. And to do it all like it's just another Saturday night, even if it's only Tuesday.

And for the audience, this may be the type of character that you adore or you hate. A killer who drinks martinis and beds a lot of women is a lot different from a killer who drinks tequila and doesn't care about women. It's not just a cute line, or a charming drink order; it's character. A character with a drink – a trait- that we remember. And Bond is cool as hell. We want to remember what he does, because we want to be him. We want to go to a bar, turn to the waitress, and say in our best Sean Connery accent, "Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred."