“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray Bradbury
What makes a good story? There are a lot of factors to think about when deciding where to start when writing one. Everyone has their own answer, it seems. Some would say plot, others would say tone, still others would argue conflict. None of those are wrong answers, but my first choice is always the story’s characters.
If you don’t have a colorful cast of characters for the journey ahead, it may not be worth your audience’s time. We read books to relate and discover. If the people in your book are bland and lifeless, then your story will share in this fatal flaw.
To illustrate, I want you to pay special attention to the following three photos.
This, by itself, is a grand story. You have a cast of ten characters, each present and full of unique, human potential.
The first picture starts with all ten characters looking off into the distance. Look at each person carefully. Some are wistful, some skeptical, and others with a smile. However, one of them is comically looking the wrong way (girl, front left) and another is looking straight up (guy, far left). The girl (center, front) seems at least amused.
Now the second picture. Some don’t change. These, I would classify as foils. Foils serve as a tool to develop the main protagonist, so they often don’t see much change themselves. People have shuffled around, slightly, so that you can now see one of them better (girl in center, back). Different characters, in a well written story, should come in and out of the story as needed. It’s also worth mentioning that the girl (far left) has now comically noticed the audience, much like a Shakespearean actor in the middle of an act. The girl (center, front) also has a smile that seems to be now intrigued.
Finally, the last picture. The two girls (far right) are no longer smiling (due to them saying something, I believe). The guy looking straight up hasn’t moved, making him either a sturdy character, or a static one. The girl (far left) has now broken the fourth wall entirely and seems to be addressing the audience with a look of amused wonder. Also, the girl (center, front) has a smile that seems to be more confident, contrasting with the guy (second to far right) who’s expression now seems unconvinced or worried.
I would like to say that most of these wonderful people would make wonderful protagonists. The best would probably be the girls (far right, second far right, or front center) and the guy (second to right) simply because they’re expressions are changing throughout. If your main protagonist is the same by the end, then what did your story truly stand for?
So, when I start a story, I ask myself what kind of character I want to write about. Comical? Realistic? Timid? I then ask how I want them to change and develop. Some characters will take the reins for themselves, but others will need more assistance to become believable.
So before you start your own story, think about the characters. If you’re having trouble with that, then just look at the people around you. They just might fuel your inspiration for the rest of your story telling days.