297 – Developing Stronger Characters

 
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You’ve got your basic cast figured out, but the characters are missing something. A little pop, a little sizzle, a certain indefinable quality. Fortunately, it turns out that quality is perfectly definable, and that’s what we’re discussing today. We talk about strategies for making your characters more memorable, making sure they stay consistent, and what the deal with backstory even is. Plus, an old Fury Road argument that’s been simmering for five years.

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https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/TMP-297-Developing-Stronger-Characters.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Deuteragonist

Robin

Zuko

Aang

Katniss Everdeen

Macrame

Red Rising

Record of Grancrest War

A Memory Called Empire

The Crow Fishers

Dawn of Wonder

Uther Pendragon

Captain Janeway

Candy and Spinach

Cursed

John Winchester

Commander Sinclair

Harry Dresden

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Diane. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

WES: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Mythcreants Podcast. I’m your host, Wes. And with me today is Chris and Oren. And today we’re talking about developing stronger characters and no, not a fitness regimen, we’re talking about having to create characters that your readers will want to invest in, characters who are well-developed and believable, realistic. to-the-point, where they kind of come to life in your stories.

And that’s really hard. Like super hard. So today we’re hoping to break down a lot of what we think is practical advice, some steps, some general commentary, and hopefully we’ll get super buff, awesome, stronger characters.

OREN (with sarcasm): Ugh, you like strong characters? How basic! I like my characters to be deep, and conflicted, and complex.

WES: I do realize that saying ‘a strong character’ is like saying: ‘Oh, that movie was good’ or ‘interesting’.

CHRIS: That is a confusing thing about this phrase ‘strong characters’ because if it means ‘good’, why do we keep using the word ‘strong’ all the time?

WES: ‘Yeah. I thought maybe like ‘strong’, like ‘a strong character’ was maybe meant to be…I want to say it’s like synonymous with like ‘forceful’, or ‘tangible’, or it has a force to mean ‘real’, but it’s fictional…?

CHRIS: …a shorthand for saying they make a strong impression?

WES: Maybe that’s it. That’s better, yeah.

CHRIS: Maybe you get to have a strong…feel…?

OREN: I was actually about to suggest that. I think that in this context, it means that the character is ‘strong’ in that they leave an impression on you and you remember them. I think that’s generally what it means, but it’s a little vague, right? It means other things, but that’s its most important feature. In different contexts, it means different things. When you talk about strong female characters, it means ‘agency’. It means something completely different when you say that. Learn context is all I can say.

CHRIS: Well, I think at this point, even though that might have been its original origins, it’s used for pretty much anything to the point where it just means ‘good character’. And so then you have to define what a strong character is in many cases because, otherwise, if you don’t, how do people know what they’re looking for? Right? How do they know whether their character is strong or not? And if they’ve gotten there?

WES: It’s a good way to maybe approach that is like, well, if you’re looking at a character and you’re like: ‘ well, what is that character like narrative purpose?’, and you don’t know? that’s not a good sign (laughing) what is that character doing in this story? What’s that character’s role?And if that’s not clearly well-defined, that’s going to be an issue and it’s going to be difficult for that character other than, maybe, leaving a strong impression in your mind as ‘that weird character that didn’t fit in anywhere’.

And, you know, run through your list: the Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, Mentor, Love Interests.…

OREN: You forgot ‘Deuteragonist’!

WES: Oh, no! How could I?

OREN: Always remember the Deuteragonist!

CHRIS: No.

WES: (laughing) just: ‘no.’

OREN: For anyone who doesn’t know what ‘deuteragonist’ means, it means ‘secondary protagonist’. It’s like, a Secondary Character. Very often you will have more than one and you can call them ‘the deuteragonists’.

WES: Do they just make like dudey quips or…?

OREN: Yeah, that’s what they do!

WES: I love it. And hate it.

CHRIS: I always just say, ’the protagonist’ to mean the main character or ‘protagonists’ for all the characters you’re supposed to root for. It seems to work okay…at least nobody has told me they’re confused in the comments.

WES: I think it makes sense. When we talk about these stories, you know, you’re not saying…’sidekick’ is a little pejorative, almost. And some people really like the secondary protagonist or whatever you want to call it. You don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or anything about a character they love. If you’re a Robin fan, that’s fine. Like Batman gets enough love…

CHRIS: Right. Although Robin is explicitly a sidekick. Whereas when we get out of the side of this superhero genre, a lot of secondary characters, they don’t feel like sidekicks, they’re not in the same genre. So yeah, it just starts to get weird.

OREN: My favorite is when some people assume that because one character is better, or more developed in some way, they must actually be the main character. I’ve seen multiple YouTube videos purporting to explain how’s Zuko is the main character of Avatar.

WES: Really?

OREN: It’s like: ‘no, he’s not.’ He’s the best character of Avatar—but you know, maybe with Toph as an exception—he’s certainly a better character than Aang, but that he’s not the main character has nothing to do with his quality level.That’s not the role he plays in the story.

WES: No. Yeah, he’s so important to the story but the main through line of this story, it doesn’t necessarily depend on Zuko’s character arc: it’s Aang! That’s…I’m upset, Oren, that people argued that!

OREN: I did not love it either when I first saw it, I was like: ‘I get it guys. I get that it’s a little disappointing that Aang’s kind of the weakest character on Team Avatar. But we just have to accept it!’

CHRIS: Right. By the same criteria Katniss is a Chosen One…

OREN: (aggrivated) AAARGH!

(general laughter)

CHRIS: Sorry, I had to bring that up. That’s been driving Oren up the wall for awhile.

OREN: Like articles and videos talking about Chosen Ones using Katniss as an example. And it’s like Katniss doesn’t meet that criteria unless you’re making your criteria so broad that any protagonist would count as a Chosen One. And it’s just, it’s ridiculous. I hate it. Anyway, moving on. (Laughter)

CHRIS: Okay. So should we talk more about things that are part of being a strong character?

WES: What goes into helping make your character stronger. Chris Evans-esque.

OREN: Yeah. You got to take a special serum, I think. Then they can actually look like Chris Evan’s looks. No. Okay. So my first thing that I always recommend people think about is motivation.This is certainly not the only thing that contributes to making characters do good, but it is very important, and I kind of think of it as a foundation. If your motivation is bad, very often, even if you have a lot of cool things on top of it, it won’t matter, you know, because—this is my foundation metaphor—your character will come tumbling down and then you’ll have to make a big insurance payout. It’ll be bad.

WES: It makes sense because tension and conflict will happen. So what’s going to get them through that?

OREN: Why is the character doing what they’re doing? It’s a surprisingly simple question that stories often fail (at). Either they don’t know why the character is doing what they’re doing, or the reasons are bad—that’s a fun one. Or what the character is doing isn’t really that important. These are all things that can make your character feel weak, or not good, or boring, not engaging, all the various…

CHRIS: …nonsensical. And this is especially a big deal with villains, who just do, you know: ‘Well, they’re the Villain’. And, okay, but why did they just kill that minion? That minion was actually important to their efforts.They’ve made themselves weaker and less likely to defeat the Hero, that kind of thing. Like, why did the villain just do that? Well, they’re the ‘Villain’, they have to, you know, cackle and kick puppies…

OREN: …or like, why, why do they want to blow up the earth? They live on the earth.

(laughter)

CHRIS: That’s another one!

OREN: Why are they selling their shrink tech to a terrorist organization when they could be selling it to the U.S. military for way more money? Like, there’s just the questions like that. When it comes to good guys you usually want motivations to be things like: how big a difference is it going to make if they succeed at what they’re trying to do, and who will be affected, and how achievable is it? These are all important because, generally speaking, you want your protagonists to have a motivation that will help people other than themselves. Not always, there are exceptions, but having your protagonists want to help other people is just a shortcut to getting your audience invested in them.

WES: And you can really flesh that out, too. Like, wanting them to help other people. That’s great. And if you spend some time with your characters, defining what is their everyday reality like? How do they go about their days? What do they believe? Who do they associate with?

And then your inciting incident happens. And then their motivation kicks in. And suddenly it’s like: ‘Okay, I know how they would behave, because I’ve kind of thought about their relationships. They’re not just wanting to help people because of this. They’re wanting to help people because of this, that, and of course that thing that happened’. Not all of that, of course, needs to go into the story. We don’t need massive exposition dumps, but they can really inform choices when you do that kind of background work for yourself.

OREN: Yeah, some people really like to do that. They build character sheets for the protagonists and if it helps you I say, go for it. In my experience, there is a danger that if you write all that stuff down, you will end up forgetting that your reader might not know the character as well as you do. So that’s a risk. Not saying you shouldn’t do it. Just be aware if you have like huge backstories written down for your character that aren’t in the story, there’s a good chance that things your character does will seem obvious to you and your reader will be like: ‘I don’t understand why they just did that thing they did’.

WES: Have you ever had, when, you guys worked on manuscripts, had an author say: ‘I have my reference material for my characters, if you need it’, or something like that?

OREN: Yeah. Sometimes. Usually what I make them do is, instead of sending me their world-building file which has all of their character’s backstory, I usually get the stuff by asking them questions and making them type out answers so that they have to be concise because if they want me to read 10 pages of character backstory, that costs extra. It’s like they have to pay me for that.

WES (laughing): Yep!

CHRIS: Writers don’t want to pay lots of more money for their edit. So we got to keep things efficient!

OREN: Right. And usually, there’s no reason to, usually it turns out they can explain these things in a few sentences. They don’t usually need 10 pages of backstory.

CHRIS: One thing I’d like to keep in mind when it comes to creating characters is that it’s not just protagonists that need to be created. Minor characters do, too. With minor characters there’s the big question of ‘how much can we get with not just the little time that they have onscreen, but also, it’s not as efficient to spend lots of time writing all of the backstory for all of your minor characters. Especially since, once again, if we have that problem where they’re overly complex and they don’t have the screen time to explain it.

That could be an issue. So there’s a difference between what all characters need to have regardless of their role in the story and what important characters need to have (or it’s better if they have), and what protagonists should have.

So I guess the next thing that may seem kind of obvious, but it’s still something to think about for all characters, is simply some level of distinctiveness. In fact, this is almost optional for the protagonist, strangely enough, but that just means that they have characteristics that stand out from other people so that they make a strong impression, and also it makes it easier to tell them apart. Especially if you have lots of characters—which hopefully you’re taking out characters that aren’t necessary and keeping that number down—but when you do have larger groups, having a character that is distinct from other characters, it adds to the novelty of the character. It makes the character more entertaining.

OREN: Yeah. And you don’t want your character to be a one-note stereotype, but at the same time, they do need to be distinctive enough that you can remember them.

CHRIS: Well, okay. About that, though. So, how ‘one-note’ they can be is dependent on their screen time. Okay. So as a character that has very little screen time, it’s actually okay if they’re one-note.

OREN: Yeah, that’s a good point.

CHRIS: …because you have no time to get to know them. Once again, once we get to important characters, what I was going to say is they need complexity, right? But really minor characters—if you have a short scene and they play a really small role and you don’t have lots of time to get to know them—just being distinctive is enough.

There is, of course, if you just use boring stereotypes to do that, you know, do you really want a scene with like the big, gruff, muscly motorcycle dude? Yeah. Okay. You can make a character stand out that way, but there’s something that’s also just inherently uninteresting about that because we’ve all seen the big, gruff, muscly, motorcycle dude character in all of these stories glowering at the hero.

OREN: This is why, if you have a big buff, muscly, motorcycle man, you should make him into knitting. Or something like that. I mean, it sounds like a joke, but it’s not.

WES: He could learn macrame and then you’d have cool bag containers to sling over his shoulders while he’s riding his motorcycle for carrying goods.

OREN: Yeah, yeah, I think we have a new post-apocalyptic hero.

WES: Oh my gosh, yes!

OREN: This is what would be Mad Max in the next Mad Max movie.

WES: Yeah, but the macrame motorcyclist! (laughter).

OREN: I would also just say real quick (this is a little bit beyond characters), but distinctiveness also applies to things like factions or groups within your story. Because if you have a conflict between groups and I can’t remember which is which, that’s not a good sign. I just read Red Rising and watched Record of Grancrest, both of which are about faction conflicts, and I could not remember which faction was doing what at any one (time). Because they’re all the same.They have no distinctive characteristics at all.

WES: A character that came to mind when we we were talking about distinction that’s a minor character that we covered on A Memory Called Empire podcast—unfortunately, her name escapes me but it’s the doctor surgeon that they go visit. When Mahit needs to get the imago removed from her head.

And that was cool because earlier in the book, they’d really established that the Teixcalaanli, they like tech and they have their kind of internet that operates through a monocle or whatever. But Mahit has got a cerebral implant and apparently the Teixcalaanli looked down on that. But then, when she needs hers removed, they find this underground surgeon. And when she appears she has cybernetic augmentation and she’s willing to do this. It hints at a lot more, there’s a whole lot of novelty because of what had been established earlier in her presence and by loose association, that we have hints at this faction that’s not really explored in the book. It gave me a taste of an even bigger city in a more complicated nation.

OREN: Yeah, although I would say that that character also represents a kind of risk, in that in that book, we see that no one in Teixcalaan has these kinds of implants.

And then they’re like: ‘Okay, we need someone in Teixcalaan to be able to do emergency surgery on this brain implant that no one in Teixcalaan knows how to do’. And it’s like, don’t worry. I know a guy. And then we just go to her and it’s like, wow, you’re weird and different. That sounds interesting. Can we follow you? No, no, she’s not part of the story.

WES: I know. And you could try to hand wave that by saying like: ‘Oh well, you know, Mahit and Three Seagrass, they’re just hanging out with the elites and they’re out of touch’, but it wasn’t in the book. So, you know, your point stands.

OREN: And I’m not sure if this character qualifies, but it is possible to make a background character too interesting. And, okay. That character either feels out of place or, especially if I’m a little bored with what’s happening, I’ll be like: ‘can we follow that character please?’ It’s like if you’re watching a post-apocalyptic movie and then in the background someone rides by on a dog sled and you’re like: ‘Wait, what? Hang on’. Like, it’s not like it’s impossible to explain why there’s a guy on a dog sled in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie, but it would seem kind of weird, right?

CHRIS: Okay, we’re definitely getting back to the Crow Eaters and Mad Max Fury Road.

OREN: Look, I wasn’t going to say it. Okay.

(Laughter)

CHRIS: We had a big discussion previously on the podcast about these Crow Eaters.

OREN: Yeah, I will die on that Crow Eater Hill.

CHRIS: I can’t help it. I love the Crow Eaters. I don’t want them to go anywhere.

OREN: Yeah. They don’t make sense. They’re bad. They should have been cut from the movie.

CHRIS (laughing): I mean, this is the give and take of putting something in your story that has a lot of novelty but it’s also kind of distracting from the story. It’s like: ‘Yes, that could be lots of fun for some people. It could also be distracting.’

OREN: It was very distracting. I was just sitting there being like: ‘Why are they there? What do they eat? What is happening? I don’t get it. Why…? If they eat the crows, what do the crows eat? What?’

(Wes and Chris laughing)

OREN: Look, okay. I have questions. I have Crow questions.

WES: So many questions…

OREN: Another thing that can be helpful—and this is specifically for main characters, characters who are you going to spend a lot of time with—is to think about their more complex desires. Because you have your motivation, which is sort of your overriding, like, ‘this is what the character is doing and why they’re doing it’, but the character can want more than one thing.

So, you might have a character whose motivation is to save this kingdom from falling but they also want to earn their mother’s approval. And if you want to get real spicy, you can have conflicting desires like: ‘My motivation is to save the kingdom from falling but the enemy general is my ex-, and I want them to think I’m cool so we can get back together’ or something like that.

And that can make for a fun, memorable—dare I say?— strong character.

WES: Dare you. I think maybe one more level to that could be what a character needs. Also, you can have complex desires and the character can have, I think about this more in terms of growth arcs, where a character has a desire and motivation, but what the character maybe needs is not the approval of an outside figure, but comes to realize that what the character needed was to love herself or something like that. So needs, desires, goals, motivations— there’s a lot of layers to that.

OREN: Right. Now, you can be real tricky and have the character be like: ‘I desire approval or I desire validation’ and then reveal that actually what they needed was self-esteem.

CHRIS: Consistency.

WES: Yes! Praise. Yes.

CHRIS: I’m being very basic, and I think a lack of consistency in many cases is caused by problems in other areas. If we don’t know what their motivation is, it’s much harder to have them act in a consistent manner. If you don’t have a good feel for those traits that make them distinctive, if you haven’t quite made up your mind about what kind of person this character is yet, they’re a lot more likely to be inconsistent. Or sometimes, some situations where it feels like the character hasn’t really been thought through, that they’re there to fill some other role. My Dawn of Wonder critique: Dawn of Wonder, the Wakening…

WES: The Wakening, oh no…

CHRIS: We have this character in there and Kalry, I think is her name, and she is watching this scene where basically bullying is happening—the main character is bullying a side character. It’s great. And she’s alternately disapproving, but also laughing. And it’s not like you can’t have those different things in there, right? But it’s clear in this situation that the writer just wanted her to be the audience and was just projecting that onto her and not really thinking of her for herself, in what she was thinking. And I think that was the problem, that situation.

And it’s not that you can’t have characters who have contradictory ideas or sometimes exhibit contradictory behavior. It’s more that, if they do change their behavior or contradict themselves, the audience gets to understand why.

And if there’s no explanation there, it just looks inconsistent.

OREN: Inconsistency also often arrives when you haven’t ironed out conflicts between the character’s motivation and the plot that you want. And sometimes this is because you have two…you know, a perfectly reasonable motivation and a perfectly reasonable plot, but they just don’t match and you don’t ever resolve that difference.

And that’s what happens with Game of Thrones. It’s perfectly reasonable for the story to end with Daenerys killing a bunch of people. They just didn’t do the work to make that in her interests. To make her in a situation where she would want to do that. And then it can also just be the sign of a very bad plot. That’s what happens in Merlin, where the plot is that we need to keep Uther alive and Uther is magic Hitler and he murders babies. And there’s no way that’s going to be good. There’s no way you can make a character we would like who would want that character to stay on the throne.

And as a result, Merlin…he has no reason to want to help out Uther but he just does. Because the story needs him to. And then Merlin starts to feel incredibly inconsistent because of that.

CHRIS: I would also say on Uther’s end, Uther is amazingly inconsistent and it’s because, for instance…oh, what’s the actor’s name?

OREN: Anthony Stewart Head.

CHRIS: Yeah. So we’ve got this great actor who played Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing this character and he’s the king. And because he’s powerful, he’s put in the position where he has to be antagonistic most of the time so that we have enough conflict for the episode. So whenever the characters are like: ‘Hey, we think that there’s a troll causing trouble’, he’s like: ‘No, I don’t believe you’. Like anything good…any time the characters want to do something good, he has to oppose it in order to create conflict. Which means that he just constantly makes bad decisions, but then they also need to justify why they have to keep him around.

So then they tried to oscillate back towards like: ‘No, he’s like a really, you know, noble guy and he’s actually good for Camelot’, despite having murdered children that is canonically established that he killed Mage children. We didn’t know how…

OREN:…he drowned them, actually. They do establish that…

CHRIS: No, but I mean the idea that he committed magical genocide. He doesn’t have the power to do that.

OREN: Right, that’s impossible.

CHRIS: Yes. But we had to establish that he drowned those Mage children. It’s true. That’s how canonical this is. We even know details (laughing) So he oscillates back and forth. Janeway in Voyager has a similar issue.

OREN: MmmHmm…

CHRIS:…again, she’s also in a position of authority where she just makes whatever decision is necessary to make the plot move forward. And a lot of times she has to oppose things that would allow them to go home, other times she has to do things that, you know: ‘No, we want to do this so we can go home’, and it’s just all over the place.

OREN: Right. That’s where you get the weird thing where one week Janaway will be like: “Well, no, of course we’re not going to break Starfleet regulations in any possible way, because if we did, we would easily get out of trouble and the writers need the characters to be in trouble”. And then the next week it’s like: “Yeah, we’re going to break Starfleet regulations and charge right through this dangerous aliens territory. Because if we didn’t, the characters wouldn’t be in trouble and the writers need the characters to be in trouble!’ (laughter).

WES: How about candy and spinach for characters? How does this affect their ability to leave a stronger impression on us? Because I think over-candied ones are forgettable.

OREN: …or you might remember them for the wrong reason.

WES: Yeah. Also that…

OREN: Well, I mean having the right balance of candy and spinach will make them more memorable in that you will like them more, right? Like with candy, you will be like: ‘Yeah, this is a character that I enjoy reading about’. And with spinach, you’ll be like: Yeah, this character has identifiable problems that make me cheer for them’. Those two things are a good way to make a very strong character.

CHRIS: Yeah.They’re mostly ways of managing likability. And I do think that there might be a sense that there’s a lot of main characters that have too much candy. And I do also think that sometimes if you want your main character to be perfect, that might keep you from doing things that make the character interesting. If you don’t allow that…especially if you’re got a big, big budget story in Hollywood and they have Hollywood central casting…I keep thinking of the show that’s supposed to be about the Lady of the Lake that’s on Netflix right now.

And the main character is just…very kind of stoic? It feels like they want to make her a strong character by making her not like other girls, and other girls in their mind is like: ‘having emotions’?

OREN & WES: Yeah.

CHRIS: It’s like Hollywood central casting and that we’ve got the beautiful look to her with the straight blonde hair and everything. And she has a best friend that is just way more interesting than she is. And the actress is allowed to be so much more expressive and she has a lot of jokey and teasiness to her and she looks more distinctive? And I think that’s because they did not think that she had to be perfect.

OREN: I’ve also just come to the conclusion that a lot of actors and directors have trouble with stoic characters. You can make a stoic character that’s interesting, but I think it must just take a high level of skill because very often they just come across as boring.

I can think of two examples off the top of my head: the dad from Supernatural, Sam and Dean’s dad, like when he’s just being his normal stoic self, he’s very boring. And then he gets possessed by a demon and suddenly the actor just comes alive and is emoting and is scary and intimidating. And I’m like: ‘Wow, this is a good, bad guy. I’m sad that this demon doesn’t possess this character forever. Because this guy’s great. He was made for this role.”

And then the same thing happened in Babylon Five with the character of…not Sheridan, but the one before Sheridan…oh gosh, I’ve forgotten his name. But the first commander, Commander Monotone I called him because he is a monotone. And he—at first I thought he couldn’t act. I was like: ’Is this guy just not a good actor?’ —and then in one episode he pretends to be a mob boss and suddenly he just, again, comes alive and has mannerisms and charisma and I was like: ‘Okay. I think it’s just that you’re having a hard time with him being super-stoic, I think is what’s happening here?’

CHRIS: I do think with Supernatural part of the issue is that—their dad has some characteristics and certainly has flaws— and at the same time. It feels like when he walks in the room, they want him to embody Dad, embody the father that young men are supposed to admire. And it’s also not just the stoic-ness, which is a masculine thing—that’s probably part of it—but that perfection, that idea of perfection that he can’t be a normal person. He has to be somewhat some greater-than-human Dad figure.

OREN: So we are kind of running low on time, but I do want to talk about something that is useful but must be handled carefully. And that is backstory.

And this can be very useful for making your characters more memorable, making them feel more alive, but it’s also dangerous—handle with care!—because a little backstory goes a long way. But with backstory you can have things like, you know, bring up old relationships, you can have unfinished business…you can have places that matter to the character because things happened there and this makes the character feel alive. It makes them feel like they existed before the story started and that’s very useful but at the same time, their audiences have a pretty limited amount of backstory they’re willing to absorb.

WES: You got to dole that out as they’re adventuring or doing stuff, right? If the character behaves some way, maybe it’s because she’s haunted by something in her past. Literally this ghost keeps following her around.

OREN: Usually audiences will care about backstory if it is relevant to the plot and that’s usually the way to introduce it. The two examples that come to mind are Mahit from A Memory Called Empire, who was literally investigating her previous self. And that’s a little bit of a cheat because we’re using special technology to let her do that. But you know, it works. And then Dresden from The Dresden Files has this very complicated backstory.

But all it really tells us at the beginning is that—we get a little bit to explain why he’s in this very precarious situation. And then, we learn more as it becomes relevant to the plot, like, when we find out that he killed his old mentor when that action comes back to haunt him, and stuff like that.

CHRIS: Just as another thing, you do have to share the backstory if you want it to have an emotional effect. I just need to make this clear because you have a character that, for instance, their estranged mother or their old best friend that’s now an enemy walks into the room, right? If you don’t share any details about their history and your character is getting really upset about this character, the audience isn’t going to feel it without some of that context.

So sharing the backstory—often in exposition, you don’t usually have to go into full flashback scenes with this—you just have to give enough evocative details to make it clear why was this best friend important to the main character. But you do have to give that information out if you want the audience to feel like it means something that they’re there. Otherwise the protagonist feels something the audience doesn’t, and we usually want them to feel it together. So, again, we don’t want too much backstory, but we do need some.

WES: That’s a good point, Chris, and we’ve covered quite a lot of ground, actually. We talked about, for developing stronger characters, gotta figure out what the heck that character is doing in your story, their role, their narrative purpose. They need to be distinct so, you know: their flaws, maybe their quirks, their beliefs, their worldviews. Most importantly, they need to have motivation and agency that goes along with that, a healthy mix of candy and spinach, and don’t forget that like all the characters need to have their own stories kind of defined within the story. Like Zuko, we mentioned, has an incredibly well-defined story but his story is not the main story. It’s an excellent example, though, of a really well thought out, very strong character who is not the main character…I gotta put that in there… (laughter)

OREN: Gotta make sure to put that in there…

WES: Yup. (Laughter)

OREN: All right. well, I think that will be it for this episode. Those of you at home, anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com, except if you want to argue with us about if Zuko is the main character, I’m just…I don’t have time.

Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons.

First, we have Kathy Ferguson who is a professor of political theory and Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber. He’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally we have Denita Rambo. She lives@therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.

PROMO: If you’re stuck on your next draft, we’d love to help! We offer consulting and editing services on Mythcreants.com.

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237 episodes