Many young writers have the same question: is my plot good enough? True, a good plot is essential to make a good story. But there is another - perhaps even more fundamental – element, which can make or break your story: the characters.
Aristotle has already summarised how important the characters are to a story. According to the Ancient Greek philosopher, characters empower the actions; they move the plot forward. Without characters, your story stays static. Without good characters, your story does not hook the readers.
But what is a character? Literature studies define characters as “quasi-persons” – figures with their own identity, names, pronouns, etc. All characters should have human-like traits that readers can hold onto, no matter how unrealistic your story setting might be. The more realistic, the more relatable your characters are, the more intrigued and enchanted the readers become. “Great,” now you might think, “so how do I create a good character?”
The briefest piece of advice I can give is to treat your characters with as much respect as you treat a fellow human being. Like a person, your character should have an identity, a background story, virtues, goals, flaws, and - most importantly - character development. Just like us mortals in the real world, your characters should have obstacles in life they must overcome. While doing so, they might fail and learn before they succeed.
Think of Hazel Grace at the beginning and the end of The Fault In Our Stars, the lessons and experiences she – and to an extent, the readers – go through from the very first page to the last. Think of Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), of Howl Pendragon (Howl’s Moving Castle). Their stories resonate with so many people because these characters not only overcome hardship, but they also learn from their flaws. That is something all of us can relate to: we learn and improve a bit of ourselves along the way.
In contrast to good character development is the accidental Mary Sue, i.e., an otherworldly perfect figure. Some examples are Bella Swan (Twilight) and Aelin Galathynius (Throne of Glass). Sure, these characters have their flaws and setbacks, but their obstacles barely result in any consequences. As a reader, it might be quite frustrating to see yourself learning from their experiences, yet these characters, who go through many trials, remain the same. The connection between readers and characters is thus broken, and the drive to continue reading is lost.
Remember, your characters should feel authentic, and there is no better way to build authenticity than good character development. Both your characters and readers can learn and grow as they experience the journey together, like a bonding experience. Then, not only do you have a good story, but also a memorable one – one that your readers can reflect and remember with fondness.
About the Author: I am in my fifth semester at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. My major is British and American Studies while my minor is Digital Humanities: Linguistics. My favourite procrastination method is baking, even though not everything I bake is edible.