Why Your Book Will Fail Without Good Characters: Basic Storytelling Elements Part 3

Welcome to my ten-part series where we’ll be going through the ten basics of storytelling as outlined in my guidebook The 10 Lost Elements of Storytelling – a book you can get for free by subscribing to my newsletter! In these posts, we’ll be going over the basics of these storytelling elements, but my guidebook is more detailed on some subjects and provides examples and resources. All you need to do is say “yes” to receiving a fun, inspirational, and educational newsletter once a month.

If you don’t read any of the other posts in this series, read this one. I’ve already stated enough times how important characters are to a story, but I’ll say it again and again until I start to see this problem getting fixed in today’s books. (And no, I’m not just being a grandma when I say “today’s books” and I’ll explain why in a minute.)

Have you ever experienced a story – in any format – from 20 or more years ago, then experienced a recent story and felt like something was missing? I can almost guarantee you that that “thing” had to do with the story’s characters.

Think about “classic” books. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, To Kill a Mockingbird, even Lord of the Rings. Every single one of these stories is character – not plot – focused. And these are supposed to be some of the best books ever written.

Now, think of the most popular stories of today. (Though this applies to books too, I’ll use movies as an example because we’re more likely to have watched the same movies than read the same books.) Superhero films. Transformers movies. The new Star Wars trilogy. More superhero films. Godzilla. Even more recent Disney movies like Raya and the Last Dragon.

These are all plot-centred stories. One surefire way to see the stark difference is this: go watch Raya, then watch Luca. Luca may be a new Disney movie, but, as I stated in a review last year, it has the same feel as an old one because it’s so character-centric. The difference is startling, isn’t it? Raya is all flashy shots, action, adventure, weird-looking dragons, and very little actual character staff. Luca is quiet and simple, but infinitely better. You can’t help but love the characters, and therefore, you have to love the story. A story can be filled with action and still have great characters, though, although many don’t seem to realise this today!

Here’s my point: time and time again, character-focused plots beat plot-centred stories. Why is this?

The characters – not the plot – are the most important part of a story. The characters are the window into the plot. They take the reader’s hand and guide them into the story. Without characters, all you’re left with is a series of events that no one cares about. The characters make the reader care, so if they’re not good, fleshed-out characters, it doesn’t matter how flashy and awesome your plot is; it won’t be captivating. I won’t go too deep into character creation here because it’s a whole other post, but this is generally what a good character looks like:

  • Believable
  • Relatable
  • Their decisions influence the story
  • They change throughout the story; there’s a character arc

It’s really not that hard to make good characters, so don’t miss this crucial step in the story creation process. Notice I’m talking about characters before plot, because yes, I think that character creation comes first. You have to use the character to drive the plot for your story to have its maximum effectiveness.

Happy writing!

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Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


One thought on “Why Your Book Will Fail Without Good Characters: Basic Storytelling Elements Part 3

  1. Pingback: Give the Plot a Backseat: Basic Storytelling Elements Part 4 | E.J. Robison

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