Now there is a hot debate in the writing world about what is the most important element in writing, so I am going to weigh in on this debate. First of all, I would like to say that pretty much all of the elements are important, but to me the most important element is characterization. I base this judgment on a lot of things, one of which I learned in theatre. I have seen some brilliant story lines that just didn't come together because the characters were not well-developed. How many of you have seen a "B" movie and the script was pretty good, but the cast just failed to deliver? Same idea.
Characters are the heart of any story. They are what we connect with and if we don't connect with them (either negatively or positively) then the rest of the story is meaningless. There are countless books that I have read and don't really remember because the characters were insignificant. On the other hand, there have been stories that were not well-developed, that were cliche and predictable; but had characters that I could relate to and sympathize with and therefore these books maintain a presence on my shelf today.
Here are some of my personal examples. I know Vampire Diaries was hot there for a while, they even got their own mini-series; but I just could not keep reading after book three, despite a colleague's insistence that she LOVED the series. Here is why: I absolutely despised Elena. (I know there are a lot of you out there who will totally disagree with me and that is ok.) She was a whiny, preppy, annoying, vapid, little fluff ball. I have a hard time relating to someone like this and it was maddeningly infuriating being stuck in her head!
Unfortunately I wasn't impressed or interested in any of the other characters either. Stafan was... wishy-washy, Damon was weak for a villain and the real villain didn't get exposed early enough for me to even root for her. (Sad when you want to root for the villain!!)
On the flip side of the vampiric young adult selections out there is the Vampire Academy series. As any of you who have seen my book review know, I LOVE this series. Looking back on it, the writing is of similar skill and although I think Richelle has a better story flow, they have about the same amount of action. The main difference in these two writers is that Richelle develops these rich and enticing characters. Rose is a tough girl (which totally appeals to me) but for those of you who like the softer, sweeter girls, her best friend Lissa will fit your bill. Despite the fact that generally I don't much prefer Russians, I still managed to figuratively fall for Dimitri. And those who don't totally love Dimitri will probably fall for Christian. Even the villains are awesome and sometimes shocking. There is a character for everyone to love!
For those of you who doubt the logic in my argument ask yourself this, what do most people talk about, obsess about and generally rave or rant about with the big stories out there? (Jacob vs. Edward? Which house would you belong to? The only reason people care is because of the characters who make up those houses!) But seriously, do a Google search on Harry Potter and most of the forums are not talking about JK Rowling's fabulous use of foreshadowing. They aren't discussing her unique ability to wind the most insignificant detail in and make it the key to the whole series. No, people are talking about how they cried when so-and-so died, how Harry is growing up so much, how they all just KNEW Ron and so-and-so would end up together. (It's hard not to give spoilers!!) And it is the same for pretty much any book, movie or play out there. People become fans of the characters. That is what they relate to.
Just as in real life, it is the people we connect with. So make your characters full people. Make people want to connect with them. If you have great characters, it can carry a so-so plot. But a brilliant plot cannot carry so-so characters. Besides, for me, the better I know my characters, the easier it is to make the plot better. The plot becomes more real and meaningful. It begins to flow.
Now that I have made my argument for why full rich characters are so important, next week we will talk about how to develop those types of characters.