In my own writing, I make a serious effort to make characters as compelling as possible. This, of course, sounds like a given, but I think it becomes quite apparent with bad storytelling in all forms that this is so often ignored. It isn’t so much that characters need every possible fact about them mapped out somehow. Characters can be quite compelling without a novel’s worth of backstory. What they need is to feel human. Whether the character is a human, species wise, is irrelevant. The reason people love Wall-E is the humanity of its characters. The adorable robot romance of the story is absolutely heartfelt. It is real and very human. How does a writer create good characters?
I’ve been thinking about this and what I’ve determined to be the X factor, as it were, is love. You have to love the beings you create. This doesn’t mean you have to like or even identify with the kind of person your character is. It means you have to love and respect your characters. It will show.
Look at any given character in a Quentin Tarantino movie. From Vincent and Jules to Aldo Raine and Hans Landa to Mr. White and Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange, there is an apparent joy in their creation. If you asked Tarantino, I’m certain he would say he loves his characters, and the storytelling itself is better for it. To love is to care, and to give respect and attention. A writer should never say he hates one of his characters. Even if it’s the most heinous, despicable, disgusting villain, horrible people should be beloved characters. Further still, I would say that if you don’t love your characters, even the minor ones, then as a storyteller you should really reconsider whether they belong in the story at all.
It stands to reason, then, that really poor movies, particularly in the storytelling department, probably have really uninteresting or downright terrible characters. My goodness, Michael Bay’s Transformers. The characters are just there as a formality, so that you can still call it a story, which in turn is just there to justify making a long car commercial with robots and explosions. If you really love your characters, and respect them, you would probably also make sure that what they do and what happens to them means something. The story will probably mean more. The dialogue will mean more. It doesn’t need to have lofty goals and you don’t have to be making a point.
The point is, stories don’t exist without characters and no one cares about the story if they don’t care about the characters. The more characters of value there are, the more an audience will value the story.
Anyway, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.