Writers might disagree whether plot or characters come first when they are fleshing out a story, but they probably all agree great characters are essential to great stories.
Think about it--almost every story we remember, we remember because of the terrific characters.
Series in books, movies and television are successful because of compelling characters, in most cases. Whether the characters are vampires, detectives, cowboys, southern belles, knights, aliens or comic figures, there is something so irresistible about them we readers/viewers keep coming back for more because we love the characters a writer has created.
Here is a great example of the importance of character: the Lucy character in "I Love Lucy" was created for television back in the 1950s when TV was in its infancy. Anyone who has ever seen this series knows the story lines are virtually all the same--Lucy pulls a prank or tries to get into show business, Ricky (her husband) gets angry with her, and, in the end, they're as in love as ever, no matter what terrible thing went on between them. It isn't the cliched plots of the stories which have kept this series on television for more than six decades, it's Lucy's character. Thousands of people, maybe millions, truly "Love" Lucy.
One of the most important things a writer should keep in mind while developing his characters is this: a character should generate his or her own stories. For example, in the movie "The Pacifier" Vin Diesel plays the part of a Navy SEAL who's mission puts him in charge of the care of several children from infancy to teens. This man has NO experience with children. He is pure Navy SEAL--and he behaves like the tough guy he routinely needs to be while carrying out his usually dangerous missions.
In other words, the Diesel character stays true to who he is and he "generates his own story" just as a well-developed character should. Whatever situation a character might be in, he must react to his circumstances in a true, honest way. If he doesn't readers (and viewers) will walk away from a writer's stories.
Writers, and readers who just want to have some fun, try this exercise. Select a character or maybe a group of characters you know well, and play the "what if" game with them. Put them in unusual or challenging situations and, staying true to who these people are, let them generate their own stories according to who they are and the situation they are in.
1. What if -- cowboy Clint Eastwood found himself at a quilting bee?
2. What if -- Mickey Mouse was called to be a clergyman?
3. What if -- two or three characters (you choose which ones) from the TV series "Friends" were trapped in a gas station during a tornado with two or three characters from the "Twilight" movie series?
Fans as well as writers should have fun with an exercise like this, but writers might just also find something helpful they can use when developing characters for their next stories.
Have a great week!
Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page