“Every story imaginable has already been told.”
So the saying goes, and from a practical standpoint it’s true. There’s only so many ways to tell the story of a hero’s quest, true love, or zombies, and we humans have been telling such stories for millennia.
So if you’re a writer, it’s virtually guaranteed that someone else has already told your story. What then can you do?
Write good characters. Phenomenal, charming, real characters.
John Hughes, director of the timeless classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, said this about the importance of characters in his stories:
“I know how the movie begins, I know how it ends…but that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not the events that are important, it’s the characters going through the event. Therefore, I make them as full and real as I can.”
That’s a method I swear by in my writing. Doesn’t matter how intricate, amazing, or diabolical of a story you think up, if the characters experiencing it are boring, then you can’t convince me or anyone else to care.
On the other side of that coin, the most basic, uninspired, overdone storyline can become a masterpiece if the characters experiencing it leap off the pages.
That’s what I did with Zach and Abby, the protagonists of my books. As I mentioned above, post-apocalypse/zombie stories have been done to death. I knew that going into it, and so I focused all my energy on making characters that were real enough to love, to become emotionally invested in.
And it paid off. Nearly every positive review I’ve received has mentioned the emotional investment to the characters, specifically Abby. They don’t care that they’ve probably read my story before, they care about Zach and Abby.
Need a more popular example? Look to the Uncharted video games. It’s such a basic game design that we’ve seen for a long time now, and at times the gameplay can actually get stale. But damn it, Nate, Elena, and Sully are some of the realest characters ever in a video game. And that’s what makes the games so popular.
So if you’re struggling with your own project, feeling like it’s not that interesting or original, fear not! Focus on your cast, make your protagonists lovable and your antagonists detestable, and they’ll carry your story for you.
What are some of your favorite characters? Or a book that wasn’t all that great if not for the characters? Let me know in the comments!