Characters are what drives people to read and to watch. Good characters create spin-offs, book series, and sequels. Plot has to be there to make it to production but with the rise of Hollywood’s distaste for original screenwriting characters are the only thing drawing crowds these days. The characters are who we relate with. Characters are the moving pieces in the story.
The plot needs to be character driven in order for people to stay engaged. Character driven plot doesn’t mean that plot is meaningless – quite the contrary – but what people are going to remember are the characters.
One of the reason action films as a genre have remained popular for so long is their ability to deliver humor in a tense environment. It’s the “I’m here to kick ass a chew bubble gum, but I’m all out of gum,” complex. The character has a super serious task given but has such strong character traits as to allow for jokes along the way. The plot makes these opportunities available but the delivery comes from that moving portion of the plot – the character.
Humor goes a long way. Heroes have a big range of characteristics they can utilize to accomplish their goal. Are they clumsy but always seem to land on their feet? Are they so competent that they can use ridiculous catchphrases when finishing off the bad guy? Or are they snarky and sarcastic when they speak to power to cover their own insecurities?
All of these endear characters into our hearts because…
2) Characters are relatable.
Excellent plots will be destroyed by bad, one dimensional characters. The character is our touchstone into the story. Think Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Without Hank’s character, the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to the world of 6th century England. While I don’t particularly think that Bella was a deep character from the Twilight series, she was relatable to the audience marketed to.
Harry Dresden is one of my favorite Urban Fantasy characters. He’s funny, compassionate and a total badass. One could say that the story wouldn’t exist without him which is true. To place any other character in the situations that Harry finds himself in wouldn’t work. The combination of wizardry and gum-shoe snark really makes the story.
3) Good Characters build brands
The comic book industry is a perfect example of this. DC and Marvel Comics used character differentiation to write the same story a thousand times. Bad guys cause chaos, good guy has super powers that are equivalent to bad guys. Good guy swoops in and saves the day, along with the girl – next issue.
Some of you will say that I grossly oversimplified but what sells comic books is the relatability of the characters written therein. Wolverine is too gruff when he beats up bad guys. Spider-man is too snarky. Maybe neither of those are hardcore enough and you want to watch Venom kill the villains. Listen to Writers of the Dawn as we talk about Anti-Heroes. Each character has their own flavor that they bring to serve the market.
When people like a character they want to see more of them. They don’t care that the story is over – put the character in a new situations! Now suddenly your brand is growing because of how beloved your characters are.
If you like characters as much as I do, you may like the ones from my novella, Cloaked in Darkness.
Writers of the Dawn
If you like want to hear David V. Stewart and I wax on more about characters, check out our podcast.