Vivid, unforgettable characters lie at the heart of any great story. Here are the four keys to unlocking them.
1: Powerful Desires/Goals/Needs
Giving your characters, especially your protagonists, powerful desires, goals, and needs will drive any story forward. One of the best examples of this is found in the iconic movie The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne’s relentless and persistent desire to escape from the Shawshank Prison drives the entire plot, keeping us engaged from start to finish.
We see this at work in countless of novels, too. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s desire for love and independence in a society that pressures women into marriage motivates the entire story.
Secrets add depth and intrigue to your characters, making readers and viewers eager to discover the truth. In the film The Dark Knight Harvey Dent’s character harbours a hidden darkness which transforms him into Two-Face, with dramatic consequences.
And who can forget, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, a series in which Jon Snow is a character with a mysterious lineage that sustains speculation and curiosity throughout the story.
Giving your characters contradictions, introduces complexity and conflict into their psychology, which renders them more interesting and relatable. In Fight Club, the narrator appears as an office worker by day and a rebellious anarchist by night, embodying the complex duality within all of us.
“Use the four keys to help you write great characters that endure.”
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch showcases a deep contradiction—fighting tooth and nail as a lawyer for justice in a deeply prejudiced, divided society while simultaneously finding the space and resources to be a loving father. His integrity and vulnerability make him one of the most beloved literary characters of all time.
The final characteristic is vulnerability. A character’s vulnerability allows us to connect with him or her on a deep, emotional level. In Inside Out, Joy learns that it’s okay to show vulnerability by feeling sadness. This vulnerability is a crucial moment in her development as a person.
In the Harry Potter books, Harry’s vulnerability stems from his fear of rejection after years of mistreatment by the Dursleys. This helps not only make him a hero but a relatable and endearing character, too.
Use these traits in film and literature to breathe life and fire into your characters.
The four keys to writing epic characters are: Powerful goals and desires, secrets, contradictions, and vulnerabilities.