So You Think You Can Write-Part 6: Characters


All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Although I’ve been talking a lot about plot and story structure, the best movies, books, and TV shows are centered around characters.

We wouldn’t remember most of the stories that stand the test of time without characters. Heck, some stories can’t exist without their central character. What would Dracula be without the titular vampire? What would The Great Gatsby be like without Gatsby himself? Or The Picture of Dorian Gray?

If you’re more of a plot-centric person, you have to learn that a story can only go so far on plot alone. Police procedurals all seem the same from a distance, but the reason there are so many different kinds is that they all have a unique cast of characters. Blue Bloods is centered around three generations of one family who all work as police officers or lawyers, so it’s a family drama on top of being a cop show. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a police procedural that’s more comedic and lighthearted.

So here are a few general things to keep in mind when creating your cast of characters.

  1. Think about your genre. Whenever I read young adult or contemporary romance/women’s fiction, the cast of characters is usually pretty small. Just the main character, the love interest, a couple of supporting characters, and the antagonist. Mystery novels and thrillers usually have one central character carrying the whole story. Fantasy and sci-fi, on the other hand, can allow for loads and loads of characters.
  2. Play with contrast. One way to create a good dynamic cast is to contrast your protagonist with his allies. Think of how different Luke is from Han Solo and Princess Leia or the way that Daredevil interacted with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Having characters with different personalities makes a story more interesting.
  3. Give supporting characters their own things to do. Not everything needs to revolve around your protagonist. One way to add some fun is to allow some room for your secondary characters to play. It doesn’t mean deviating from the story. It just means giving a few people in your supporting cast their own goals. A simple version of this is in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas, but the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion all tag along with her because they think that the Wizard will give them what they want most.

I will go more into detail about different types of characters starting tomorrow, so stay tuned!



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