I’m a huge fan–huge!–of the television show How I Met Your Mother. It hits a lot of my triggers: great humor, geeky references, emotional honesty, and offbeat story structure. The actors have done a great job of bringing their characters to life, and now that the series is coming to a close, I’m getting a bit maudalin because I’m saying goodbye to old friends. I’m sad that I won’t be spending time with these characters every week. Sure, I can do a Netflix binge or catch reruns on cable, but it’s not the same. I’ll still laugh at the jokes and get teary-eyed when something emotional happens, but I won’t learn anything new about the characters.
Real, fully-fleshed characters are what separates books and stories that endure from those that don’t. Prose and humor and action and gripping plotlines have their place, but characters are the glue that holds everything together. Great characters can bolster a not-so-strong plot. A relatable protagonist can bring light to a dark tale. Characters give readers a reason to give a shit. We re-read books to reaquaint ourselves with the people, not because we’ve forgotten the finer plot points of a book.
Focus on characterization and the rest will follow.