I'm happy to welcome Zachery Richardson today to let us in on the purpose of characters. Take it away, Zach!
I like to give my characters purpose.
Not just within the context of them having a reason to play the hero, but within the context of their own lives. I like to give them their own personal goals and dreams, separate from the fantastical circumstances they find themselves in. For example, the protagonist in my new book, Winter’s Blood: A Werewolf Novella, is a concept artist working for an unnamed video game developer. Art, and the creation of it, is what he lives for. Even if werewolves didn’t exist in his world, and his girlfriend truly was dead, he would still have purpose in his life. He’d still have a reason to exist
Contrast this with say, Bella Swan, the main character in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Now, I actually enjoyed reading the Twilight books, I think that the movies (for better or worse) are the most faithful book-to-movie adaptations I’ve ever seen, and I would honestly put Breaking Dawn among my Top 10 favorite books. That said, by far my biggest problem with the series is how much of an empty vessel Bella seems to be. She didn’t seem to have any goals or dreams of her own, apart from being with Edward and becoming a vampire.
On the one hand, that makes it very easy to get into her head and live the story through her. On the other however, it made it very difficult for me to care about her as a character. I felt like that had she not met Edward, or if vampires simply didn’t exist in her world, Bella Swan wouldn’t really exist either. Her sole purpose, her only reason for existing, seems to be to fall in love with Edward Cullen. Again, while this more or less works for Twilight, I still feel it is a weakness and not a strength.
That’s not to say however, that every character in every story needs to know the exact thing they want to do with their lives. Part of the whole Young Adult genre is the main characters trying to figure out what that thing actually is. The main character in one of my WIPs has absolutely no idea about what he wants to do with his life, but the difference between him and Bella is that his utter lack of an idea is an important part of the story and greatly influences who and what he ultimately becomes.
The title of this post, The Purpose of Characters, is a reflection of my belief that the best developed characters are ones who have a purpose of their own, whether they start with it as Michael McGavin does in Winter’s Blood, or if they gain it over the course of the story. If werewolves didn’t exist in Winter’s Blood, Michael would still be an artist. If vampires didn’t exist in Twilight however, who or what would Bella be? To any aspiring authors out there who are reading this, ask yourself this question next time you sit down to write: “If my story isn’t about my main character discovering who they are, then who really are they?”
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