By: Roz Morris
Why is character so important? Isn't plot enough?
A story certainly needs a plot. We have to feel the characters will do something interesting and it will be a tale worth telling. But part of the reason a story is interesting is who it’s happening to. Everyone’s unique, and a well-drawn character will help create a unique plot. Put Jane Eyre, Mrs de Winter, Elizabeth Bennet, Oliver Twist or Philip Marlowe in an identical situation, and you’ll get five completely different stories.
When we feel a character is real, the plot events matter more. For instance, Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach is about the last straggling survivors of a nuclear war. So on the one level we are drawn in by intellectual curiosity about an unusual situation. How did it happen? What does the world look like? What will the end be like? How will people die?
But Shute also shows what it’s like to live under those conditions; how different people cope with the knowledge that they will die. Some of them are in denial, and talk about the future as though they will live for many more years. One of them buys a sports car and hopes he’ll have a fatal accident while driving it. These people are individuals and their psychological depth transforms an intriguing idea into a real and heartbreaking story.
Here are some of the ways writers can create characters who bring a plot to life.
Engage our emotions
Great stories get you emotionally involved with the characters. This connection doesn’t happen automatically. There has to be a deliberate moment where the writer reaches out to the reader.
This principle has an equivalent in real life. There are plenty of ways we can have people around us and not feel connected to them. Imagine you’re squashed up against commuters in a rush-hour train, or crowding into a lift, or standing in a queue. They’re bodies, not people - unless something breaks the ice. The same happens with characters in novels. Until the writer reveals a character’s humanity, they are just a name on a page, or a job description: a policeman, a gladiator, a doctor.
How do writers do this? With the things we all have in common - a history, relationships, things that matter. Take The Hunger Games. Like On The Beach, it’s an intriguing story idea - a reality gameshow where teenagers kill each other. But the author Suzanne Collins doesn’t coast on that, she works hard to make us aware of her main character’s humanity. So we begin with the heroine Katniss, her family who she feels responsible for and her close friend Gale. This hooks us to her.
Then Collins adds emotional conflict. This is the other great hook that writers use. Emotional conflict makes us curious to know what happens to a character. Katniss is made to team up with Peta, a boy who makes her uncomfortable. The show’s organisers want to present them as star-crossed lovers to boost the ratings, which will help keep them alive, but in the end one of them will have to kill the other. And Katniss is torn even further because her soulmate Gale will see everything on TV. This turns her story into a daisy-chain of personal dilemmas - and dilemmas really hook our attention.
Once you’ve got the reader involved with your main character, here’s how to keep them riveted:
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Read the full article HERE!
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