Updated: Dec 6, 2019
I think I’ve said this before in some blog post somewhere, but I like to watch political commentary on YouTube.
(Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a political commentary itself. I’m just explaining how I came to the topic at hand.)
One of the channels I like to follow is Bill Whittle, which is run by a guy named… Bill Whittle. He and his colleagues put out a video about why nobody went to see the newest Charlie’s Angels movie.
Because, apparently, in all seriousness, almost nobody went to see it. It bombed out. Big time.
In discussing why that was, Whittle said this while comparing it to Wonder Woman:
She [Wonder Woman] had all of these qualities that made her vulnerable. And if you’re not willing to put a female character through the wringer and have her be defeated and fail and lose confidence – if you’re not willing to have that happen, you cannot create a movie that anybody wants to see. If you start off invincible and you end off invincible, there’s no arc, there’s no change. There’s nothing.
I know he was specifically talking about female protagonists in that very moment. But as he stated before that point, it’s true for story character creation in general.
Here’s a related question for you that might not seem related at first…
Would you ever turn your life story into a book?
Perhaps you would. Perhaps you wouldn’t. But why or why not?
More than likely, if you’re in the “never gonna happen” camp, you think your life is too boring. Too average. Too uneventful.
If you’ve gone through some significant troubles and trials though, you might very well be in the other camp. You might believe that your story would make an exceptionally compelling novel or nonfiction work.
However, in that, you might be wrong.
That’s not to devalue what you went through, for the record. I’m not saying your struggles weren’t real or even life-altering.
But it’s not just the struggle that matters in a story. It’s the journey through that struggle. It’s how the main character or characters come out ahead – come out changed – as a result.
Perhaps another blog post for another day.
For now though, we’re just focusing on the standard kind of main character: the hero.
If that’s what you’re working with, you need to make him or her human throughout the struggle. Both for better or worse. That needs to be your character-writing focus. In fact, perhaps that even needs to be your plot-writing focus.
As Bill Whittle said above, your hero? She needs to be vulnerable. He needs to lose all confidence at some point... so bewildered or hurt or scared that he just doesn’t think he can go on.
And then he or she needs to set aside those human weaknesses by connecting to something higher – whether it’s God or love or duty – to finish the job anyway. Your protagonist needs to learn a personal lesson before the story’s through.
Otherwise, the pages will read just like you were writing a book about a life that’s too boring. Too average. Too uneventful.
It’s not going to be compelling at all.