If you have spent any time at all researching the art of writing, or, for that matter, if you’ve spent time actually writing, you’re probably aware of what might, arguably, be the single most important factor in the crafting of your story. Simply, it’s called character development or character arcs, but we’re delving a little deeper than that.
Does your MC have a soul? It might sound like a funny question, but it essentially refers to the bend-ability of your characters. Or, their ability to grow and change, for better or worse, and thus engage your reader’s heart and attention. If your characters do not engage the reader, your story is very likely . . . drowning.
A while back, I read a novel that was very much based on the typical plot line of “time travel brings the prophesied hero into a world that they are destined to save.” You know that kind of story. And there’s nothing wrong with that kind of story,
aside from its cliche-ness. However, because the plot of that book relied so heavily on a used-and-abused cliche, it did not feel to me as the reader to be a very well developed story.
But then there were the characters. And those characters were so well-developed and had so much room to grow – in other words, they had souls – I kept reading and ultimately enjoyed the story. Because of the characters.
Then there are the stories with plots and worldbuilding so thorough and well thought-out we are blown away. But many times, if those stories do not have believable characters, they cannot really stand up to the stories that do.
However, please note that you may write a very believable, real MC, with an excellent arc, that a particular reader can’t relate to. Thus, they may not enjoy the story as much as they could. I’ve read books like that – but just because I can’t relate to the protagonist, doesn’t mean it isn’t a character with a soul.
1. GIVE YOUR PROTAGONIST FAULTS
Let him/her make mistakes. This is one of the easiest first steps in reaching the reader. If your MC is “perfect,” well, who can relate to that? Yes, of course, you can make your character a hero in his own way, but a hero without fault is unlikely to inspire the avid reader or garner their support. And besides that, I think even the author will find that a hero with his own weaknesses or misled beliefs or shadowed past is much more interesting to write. 🙂
2. DON’T LET YOUR ANTAGONIST BE STAGNANT
This is far trickier, it doesn’t work for every story, and honestly, I don’t recommend you tackle this until you’ve reached a certain level of confidence in your writing, especially the writing of your protagonist. That said, there may come a time when you’re ready to do more with the antagonist.
Be creative. Ask questions. Was he/she always evil? What carried him/her down that path? Make your antagonist someone we might even be able to feel a little story for. An example, at least for me, would be the antagonist Shinzon in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that he was not only given a unique launch point – he was more or less a clone of our protagonist who took a different road in life – and because of the things that encouraged him to make the choices he did in his life, it is easy to come to feel sorry for him, making that character an excellent antagonist.
To clarify, that antagonist just went from someone we cheer against to someone we want to see become a better person. And that is good writing.
There are many more points I could talk about here, but I’ve run out of time. So let’s chat. Who is your favorite antagonist/protagonist? What do you do in your writing to give your characters a soul?