When I was younger, I used to believe that you had to have a balance diet when it came to a story. You had to have good characters, ideas, setting, description, language and so on. As I’ve come to realize over the years, you really only need one very important thing–characters.
Characters are the most important thing in a story. Nothing else matters as much especially the plot. There’s that quote that goes along the lines of, “All stories have been told before.” Sure, while there are no original stories and people are smart enough to have a general idea of what will happen–like the hero lives and saves the day, people haven’t seen it done with YOUR character. Nor have they seen his journey.
I’m currently watching 24 Legacy and while it’s not as good as it’s predecessor despite having better tech, more relevant story lines, and a black man. The original 24 had great characters. It had Jack, Tony, Michelle, Nina, Chloe, Palmer, George, and so on that I still remember all these years later. I’m not sure what Legacy has. Maybe it’ll get better but so far, there’s nothing to grab me. Unlike Creed, I don’t think I’ll care if this show doesn’t get another season.
Characters also don’t have to be people. Worlds and settings can be characters too. I haven’t read all of Harry Potter as I couldn’t get past the first book, but I did see all eight movies. While I don’t believe the Harry Potter world had good characters except for maybe Hermione, the world itself was fantastic. That vibrant world that Rowling created was a character unto itself. If you think about it, between the time travel and all the overpowered magic with little to no rule set, nothing makes any sense. But on screen and even in real life, with the costumes, ghost in the paintings, movable staircases, Quidditch, etc., it became alive. That’s why it has such a huge fan base.
Whenever you find yourself caring about what happens to a character or imagining yourself in their shoes, that’s when you know a writer has done a great job. Shows that were once great but extended themselves for far too long (cough, Supernatural), you’re still watching for a reason, although you don’t quite know why. You’re invested in those characters and even though they’ve done the same things or have the most non-nonsensical plots, you still watch it because you want to see where it goes. You don’t want to see where the story goes, but you do want to see where the characters end up.
Even though characters are the most important thing, some of the most well known stories don’t have the most likable characters. Harry Potter, Fone Bone, Leondardo, Cyclops are all somewhat boring and plain. Maybe it’s because they’re straight laced and “perfect,” and most of us can’t relate to that. I know I myself am drawn more to characters like Cole from Charmed, Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, or Kaiba from Yugioh. I don’t even want to get into what that says about what type of person I am. Others are more attracted to the nerdy characters or funny ones.
I will try to keep this mind as I continue to write. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to come up with awesome characters. Is it done by writers injecting the characters with more traits of themselves or people they know? Is it done by a wish fulfillment of what you should or shouldn’t have done? Is it something else entirely? One day, I hope to have the answer…