When crafting a story, writers spend as much time agonizing over the characters who populate it as they do the events that happen. Without relatable, realistic, and distinguishable characters, readers will feel disconnected, no matter how interesting the setting or plot is.
A plot may stimulate readers’ minds, but even the most unforeseen twists won’t linger in their memory unless the events are deeply rooted in the characters’ lives. Strong character development engages readers’ emotions, giving them someone to invest in and identify with. It’s a crucial component of fiction, but the execution looks starkly different in a plot-driven story than in a character-driven one. By comparing the two styles, writers can learn how to capitalize on the one that best serves their work-in-progress.
When you think about fast-paced stories, what comes to mind? Cliffhangers that keep you awake late at night, turning pages so quickly that you get paper cuts? Or anemic character arcs and half-hearted themes. Sometimes films and books sacrifice character development for the sake of fight scenes and car chases. But if a character’s experiences don’t change him at all, what’s the point?
Strong women, as they’re portrayed in a lot of fiction and films, have a problem. They act like men (albeit hot men with curvy bodies and perfect hair, teeth, and nails). This bothers me, and it should bother you too, because we’re being fed a lie. Male and female perspectives each possess great worth, and both genders are vital aspects of the human experience. Neglecting one or the other in a story guts the truth’s potency.
As long as a villain has a reason for his wicked behavior, he’ll seem real. Right? Or will he? Shoppers grow hungry but don’t steal. Bank tellers get angry but don’t beat up customers. Hardships tempt people to commit crimes daily, but they control themselves.
I’ve noticed a vacuum developing in fiction. Popular novels, particularly fantasy and young adult, tend to exclude child characters. And if children do play a role, they’re caricatures of how small people actually behave.
When you’re in the thick of writing, you’re pressured to perfectly structure your plots, ace your pacing, and polish your prose. Amid that chaos, character arcs can easily get lost. You want readers to be touched by hope when the hero perseveres, joy when he discards his selfish goals, or determination when he confronts the villain. But despite the effort you’ve poured in, you worry that readers won’t be able to follow the protagonist’s arc.
For better or for worse, villains are fascinating. The best ones challenge the protagonist’s worldview and ethics, pushing him closer to pivotal decisions than the smoke and mirrors of plot.
Stories are dead without characters. But a character won’t breathe life without a vibrant voice, and many writers struggle to develop one that’s entertaining yet believable. A viewpoint character should be more than a distant narrator who relays the story’s events. Readers should experience scenes through him. If readers don’t feel immersed, that usually means the author didn’t stop to ask why the character has certain thought patterns or consider whether his personality is even fitting.
Antagonists and villains are often used interchangeably. But they’re not identical. Though they’re both defined as an opponent, that’s where the similarities end. A villain is deliberately and personally invested in thwarting the hero’s cause. An antagonist, however, is just doing his job, trying to survive, or pursuing a goal that happens to clash with the hero’s.