A Main Character to Remember
In this article I want to discuss what it takes to create a great main character. One that sticks with us for our entire life after seeing them on the small or big screen. Characters like: Forest Gump, Arya, Andy Dufresne, Katniss Everdeen, Ellen Ripley, Luke Skywalker, Rey, Neo, Walter White, Jon Snow… Wow, I could go on for days, but I’ll stop… You get it. There are characters that live on forever in infamy, because we gravitate towards them, we love them, we are inspired by them, we empathize with them – we remember them!!!
What makes that happen?
I think making a character unforgettable, requires two main ingredients (a smattering of others, but two big ones). Those two things are: Passion and Grit.
Let’s dive in!
Not just in movies, but in life, we are all compelled and fascinated by passion. If someone is acting out of passion, performing or speaking, be it politics or in a fight – whatever the case – if someone is angered, or moved to the point that they are raising their voice and expressing deep emotion – WE LISTEN! We are drawn to it like a moth to flame. It’s undeniable.
Great main characters like the ones listed above have this same appeal for us. They are driven by something. They are moving, with all their might, towards a tangible goal and they will stop at nothing to see it fulfilled. This usually incorporates some kind of unique skill-set that makes them stands out as well, and typically their passion is driven by literal life or death stakes (Katniss and Ripley, come on!) – but it doesn’t have to be a life or death situation for us to truly empathize and FEEL what the character is feeling. As long as they are passionately going after something (setup in Act One) we will gladly watch them on their journey to completion (or fail).
Which brings us to the second quality: Grit. And you can’t have grit without setbacks, trials, fails, obstacle, and hardship. Truly terrible things have to happen to your great main character. We need to see them get battered and bruised, moved to tears, thinking about giving up, no end in sight, how will they keep going – ALL OF THAT. The more the better. Because in the end, when they succeed and rise above all that pain and suffering -- we will LOVE THEM FOR IT.
If you go through each of those characters above, every single one of them experience extreme loss and struggle. This is paramount to creating a character we fall in love with. Their pain becomes our pain, and their resolution/redemption becomes ours as well. We literally feel like we know them once the story is over and usually – can’t wait to tell our friends about it afterwards.
Isn’t this exactly how life works? If you ever went on vacation or won the state championship or got in a car accident – the thing that makes those stories great is overcoming the obstacle! You lived to tell the tell. Your main character should do that too. We will love them for it.