All of these hit t.v. shows, movies, and books have one thing in common:
Is it an excellent storyline?
Perhaps great characters?
Maybe it’s the plot twists?
Or the uniqueness of the story idea itself?
While all of those things are strong factors, the one underlying key point that made these stories resonate with us may surprise you. They don’t focus on one character’s journey alone.
Each story depicted above focuses on more than one individual’s personal goals and problems. The author treats every character as if the overall story is about them. While there may be one character that plays the iconic role of hero or heroine, the story is incomplete without the supporting cast of characters.
Suzanne Collins did an excellent job of garnering our sympathies for characters like Peeta, Finnick, Johanna, Haymitch, Rue, Beetee, and more. She delved into back story, revealed personal struggles, and played on their personal strengths. This made us appreciate the depth of her unique stories.
The idea is this: you must give every character in your story purpose by giving them:
- Personal goals/ambitions
- Personal obstacles to challenge their character
- A glimpse into their life, their origin story
- Weaknesses or faults
- And most importantly, an active role/job in your story
When you take the time to form a solid identity for each character, you’ll want to give them a chance to motivate the plot through their actions. When you then grant them the spotlight to take action based on their own unique circumstances, it will engage the reader. The reader will either connect personally with that character and root for him/her, or will at the very least be curious about his/her own personal journey and its outcome.
Each character should have a unique response to the overall issue of your story. Unique character response pushes the plot forward.
Think for a moment about The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are nine main characters, but even outside that immediate fellowship, there are even more memorable faces!
Think for a moment about Aragorn. Aragorn had a unique destiny facing him. Being Isildur’s heir meant he was to become King of Men. But at first, Aragorn refused the role and stayed hidden in the shadows as a ranger known as “Strider”. It wasn’t until the people he cared for were threatened that he came into his own, fought off Sauron’s invading armies, and fulfilled his role as rightful King. His own unique actions motivated the overall plot multiple times, although the story wasn’t truly about him. Still, we cared for Aragorn greatly and wanted him to succeed in his own personal journey.
So take a moment and think about your own cast of characters. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do they have a strong personal identity?
- Do they have a unique role in your story?
- What personal goals they have?
- What personal struggles do they face?
- What dark, unsettling past still haunts them?
- What could make or break them?