What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

family_people_silhouettes_by_Scorp1_at_vecteezy.com

To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?

 

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