A few days have passed since my last post (I get lazier with it every day it seems), so I was thinking today we should have a moderately lengthy, in-depth conversation about writing.
And not, like, how many characters long your new hotmail password has to be…
As writers, we all know how important characters are to a story. I mean, obviously, they have to be… without them, we would have no story. Also, if you’re like me, you get attached to them pretty easily… and, if you have to kill one off, you have to go through a whole grieving process before you can even bring yourself to do it. Characters are important.
So, today, I’d also like to take some time to stress how important it is to make your characters relatable.
So… well, why?
When you read a book, watch a movie, go to a play… or anything of the sort, what’s one of the top reasons you get pulled into or hooked to the story?
And what’s the top thing that makes a story feel real?
Think about it like this… you’re watching a TV show, a sit-com, featuring an average middle class family. There’s two kids in the family, a brother and a sister, who get into an argument in the kitchen. They could be fighting over who gets the last cookie, who gets to use the family computer first, or who they think will win the current season of the show The Voice. That sounds pretty realistic, and it could happen. Which sounds more real, though… a sister who threatens to blackmail her brother (by posting his baby bathtub pictures on Instagram for #ThrowbackThursday) if he doesn’t give her the last cookie, or a sister who takes the cookie, looks it over, sighs, and then gives it politely to her brother while she says, ‘here, take it, you proved yourself to be much better at arguing than I could ever be…’? Even if you’ve never had a sibling of your own, you probably know that the first scenario is much more likely to happen in real life than the other.
Let’s think about why, though.
How many girls with a brother are there in the world? A ton. How many of those girls argue with their brother about… well, anything? Almost all of them. If I were to survey a number of those girls about whether they would threaten their brother into giving them the last cookie in the kitchen or be more likely to give in and actually complement their brother as they handed the cookie over to him… what do you think the results would be? I’m guessing the first option… because that’s what the majority can relate to.
Relatable characters make for relatable situations, which, in turn, makes them more realistic. I’m sure that those sisters would find the outcome of the arguing situation much more real in a book if they could relate to it; they’d find it pulling them in more than one they couldn’t relate to.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read even snippets of a story and thought ‘yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen.’ That really turns me off; I don’t want to waste my time reading something that I can’t see happening in real life. Even fantasy and science fiction stories can be realistic in my mind… as long as the characters make it feel so.
Which brings me to the heart of this post… relatable characters.
Good characters have good character traits. They have relatable, realistic traits. They can be the motivational friend or the nitpicky boss. Good characters also have flaws, and they can sometimes contradict him/herself. The motivational friend has a tendency to drink too much on weekends and cry about how little she actually does to move her own life along; the nitpicky boss has a pristinely organized office, but also a two-bedroom apartment that always looks like a tornado had just whipped through it the night before. They’re people that we can see as being real, or that we can relate to someone we know in our own lives.
But please, please, please… stay away from cliches.
Cough… the bad boy trend… cough.
For real, though, cliches make your story less real. Probably because they’re usually not based on real life people and rarely have any flaws that are actually problematic. For example… the tough but mysterious girl that’s afraid of falling in love or ever even feeling like she’s about to have feelings for anybody, but still ends up falling in love with some random guy anyway. What’s her flaw? It could be that she’s ‘too tough’ or ‘scared of love’… but does that actually stop her from being human and falling for that random guy? No, it never does, and it makes her… well, a much less relatable person.
That also explains a lot of why cliches turn readers off, too, in general.
So, at this point… well, I hope you get my point. If not… let me summarize.
In order to make your story good, you need to make it realistic. In order to make it realistic, you need to make it relatable. In order to make it relatable… make your characters relatable, and, in order to make your characters relatable, give them relatable character traits and flaws.
Or, if you just got 120% confused by that, just know that a good story starts with realistic, relatable characters.
And that’s all, folks.
Have you been making your characters relatable?