Building Character

A lot of people would say that the most important aspect of writing is the story. I won’t argue with that. A good story is the foundation of any writing project. I don’t care if it’s a comic book, a novel, a stage play or a film script. If you don’t have a compelling story to tell, no body is going to care. But what about the characters? Hell, I’ll be even more specific. What about your main character? This is the individual who will be marching through your story. Shouldn’t the main character be as important, if not more so, than the story?

It’s like the old saying, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” Well, I ask you, “What came first, the Character or the Story?” It is a great debate that I’ve had with other wordsmiths in the past. Would Star Wars have been an epic tale if there was no Luke Skywalker? What if R. P. McMurphy was never sent to the Cuckoo’s Nest? Would we give a damn about him or his life in prison? And think of the Land of Oz for a moment. Would it have seemed so magical and marvelous if we hadn’t seen it through Dorothy Gale’s eyes?

Story VS Character, the age old battle. The best way to find a happy middle ground on the subject is this… Every story has a great character and every character has a great story. Dismissive and a little sappy, I know, but it’s the truth.

There are some stories that are great in a single serving, regardless if it’s a film, book or comic.  Classics like Dracula, Animal Farm and Don Quixote are great examples of “done in one” story telling. But what if you could keep visiting the character(s) and their continuing story? Seeing them grow and change, for good or bad, as individuals. As a young adult, I loved reading the Star Wars novels that continued the story of Luke, Han and Leia. As an adult, I couldn’t get enough of Laurell K Hamilton and her Anita Blake series (until it turned into horror porn). Equally great is Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden Files series. And I can’t forget to mention Roland and King’s The Dark Tower series! Getting to return to these characters lives, over and over, made me feel like I was visiting old friends and family. I’m sure it’s the same reason people love the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and (groan) Twilight books.

If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve mentioned story as much as I’ve mentioned character. Do I think one is more important than the other? No, I can’t make a statement as bold as that. Sometimes one drives the other, or they go hand in hand. Whatever your feelings on the subject, one thing is undeniable… Characters, the really special ones, have the power to keep us coming back for more. And no matter what their story is, it’s always an adventure to us.

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