As we have said before, great stories are comprised of great premises involving great people, in grand places, doing wonderful things. All of these things are very important, but at some times one of the peas in our pod is more valuable than all of the others combined. A great premise, place, and plot are nothing without great people, characters, driving them in order to make them meaningful.
What is it about the people who inhabit a great story, wonderfully written that makes it so? It's that while they are running around the pages between the covers, they are usually doing great things. Some people think about doing great things, other people talk about doing great things, great people just do great things and they are the ones you want to write into your work.
How do you build great people? You make them MORE! IN CAPITAL LETTERS! WITH AN EXCLAMATION POINT! How do you make your people more? In order to understand that you have to understand how readers related to people in a story.
Regardless of how you slice it, the great people in our favorite books all want to be more, do more, and have more in their lives, which is the same thing that we want to be, do, and have in ours – more. That's why we identify with our favorite characters so much. Not because they are like we are, but rather because they are more than we are. They are what we would much rather be if only we had more of what they have. So if you want to write great people into your story, then you have to do the one key thing that your readers want: give your people more.
Why give your people more? To make them more extraordinary. If you don't make your characters more extraordinary, then no one is going to want to invest themselves in reading about them.
What makes people in your story extraordinary? They should be like the bigger-than-life types and kinds and examples of characters that all of us have come to know and love over generations and generations of storytelling. Those people who let us imagine how life would be if we could only will it so. People who help us understand our deeper selves, our untapped potential, our passions, our pleasures.
Going back to the times of the Bible, we've read about and become characters who are the leaders of others. We want to see and be Moses talking to God through a burning bush before he leads a nation through forty years of feast, famine, and foibles in the desert. More currently, we desire to watch and join Ishmael casting himself out to the sea of adventure. Still modernly timed, we love to see Scarlett as she swears she and we, having triumphed over all of the problems that both she and others had put in our way, will never be hungry again. And, finally, in our own decade, we want to fly like the boy with the lightning bolt on his forehead who took seven years (ten, actually, but who's counting) to overcome the Dark Lord; yes, You-Know-Who, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, by anyone else but us.
The writers of what they hope will be tomorrow's bestselling novels are today striving to create people in their stories who are simply more. In my own young adult novel series, The Arnie Carver Adventures, I've attempted to create a hero who has both more and less, more or less.
Thayne Davidson Miller, III, becomes the world's wealthiest teenaged orphan when his parents are apparently murdered on the way to his thirteenth birthday party. He definitely has more material wealth than any other person his age. But he also has less of some other more important things, which allows me to give him more suffering, more striving, more opportunities to grow in more important ways.
Sometimes giving such a character less allows a writer to make him be more. This is exactly what I hoped to accomplish when I crafted Thayne's alter ego, Arnie Carver. Arnie decides to sacrifice his splendor (to some degree) and enroll in the Global Optimum Development Academy, an international boarding high school for gifted children, based solely on his ability to speed-read two facing pages of a book per second and the tremendous amount of knowledge that he has been able to catalog in his mind as a result. Certainly less of a gift than some others at GODA possess, but more of it all the same.
What do you give your story's people more of? Well, what is it about our best-loved maids and men that makes them so extraordinary? It is predominantly their strength and their sheer will to win in a positive and inspiring way at whatever they are doing. We admire them because no matter their circumstances they never completely lose hope that they can persevere, overcome adversity, and make everyone around them, including us as readers, feel good again. But still, there's even more to it than that.
What other specific qualities do our favorite heroes exhibit? The complete list of all of the possibilities is too long to fit in a book. And, even worse, inasmuch as one man's poop is another's peanut butter, heroic and attractive qualities can also be their very own opposites. Strength? Vulnerability? Will to win? Ability to gracefully accept defeat? Persistence? Impatience? Knowledge or wisdom, which may or not be the same thing? Enough intelligence to understand the need to learn more? Lional courage? Reverential fear and awe of appropriate things? The ability to lead? A bigger ability to follow? Thrift? Generosity? Brashness? Humility? Willingness to take risks? Caution at the right moment? Open-mindedness? Certainty of the correctness of one's position? Seriousness? A self-deprecating sense of humor? I could literally go on forever.
The facts and circumstances of each individual's story inside a bigger epic determine what more you can and should give them. In Arnie Carver and the Plague of Demeverde, all of the characters introduced to us at GODA are more, do more, and have more than we mere readers do. Some of them are more physically gifted, like the lead female in the first book, Bernadette Rogers, a luscious and loquacious leader from her California middle school. Some of them are more sinisterly gifted like H.M. Crist, a sophomore, whose father, the governor of Delaware is close friends with another leading industrialist of the world, Gregory Scorsos, the antagonist of the leader of GODA, Unius. No matter which character in a book is being considered, good or bad, feast or famine, hero or villain, each of them has to get more from the writer in order to slake the thirst for it of the reader.
There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for what will make the people in your story great, except to give them great qualities and put them to work doing and experiencing great things. Great sufferings, great successes, great struggles, great endurances. However you are crafting the people in your great story, wonderfully written, write them more and your fiction will be better for it.
More Wants – Needs and Desires
As we said, our most memorable characters are those who want to be more, do more, and have more in life or in fiction. Not only do they want more, however, but they want more more deeply; they not only want it, but they also need and desire it. And even more than the opposites of various qualities are symbiotically attractive, the simultaneous yearning of a character for one thing and its exact opposites is one of the most powerful pheromones that you can pour across a page for a reader to inhale.
The inner conflict you create for a character that way – wanting both a wife and a mistress, a stable life and a steamy love, a hunk and a hubby – is sublimely attractive. Most often slaking such opposite thirsts is both impossible and impossible to ignore, which is exactly what makes it so juicy for a viewer to watch, a listener to hear, a reader to read.
Thayne Davidson Miller, III, suffers more than others from such an inner conflict. In chapter one of Arnie Carver and the Plague of Demeverde, Thayne is seen to be hating his very existence. He obviously enjoys all of the neat toys his privileged circumstances provide him. We see him playing with one of them after another as he talks to his butler, Jacques Marquis. But he also has a stronger desire to be a regular kid and escape the wall of security imprisoning him so he can go be with real friends his own age. A year after his parents are killed on the way to his birthday, Thayne sees an opportunity to both have his cake and eat it too, by replacing himself with a lifelike Intellitron manufactured by one of his family's companies and adopting the alter ego of Arnie Carver, who like Pinocchio becomes free of the strings controlling him so he can become a "real boy."
Whenever and wherever a writer can plausibly set up inner conflict it a story's people, she should do it more and more.
While slaking opposite attractions is very difficult, great people make satisfying a pointed need extremely easy. Always able to say just the right thing at exactly the right time. Never lacking the ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Ceaselessly availing themselves of all of the pleasures of life. Memorable characters are always ready, willing, and able to do just the right thing in any circumstances.
We meek and mild readers may subscribe to the modest notion that less is more. Great people in great stories, wonderfully written, however, boldly believe that more is, well, more. And they never pass up on an opportunity to soak up everything that life has to offer like an infinitely capacious sponge. Even for something as mundane as eating a hamburger.
As Arnie Carver is traveling alone for the first time, on a public, commercial air carrier even (foregoing Thayne's personal jet plane), he has his first chance to quiet his own literal personal hunger. Having never had the opportunity to enjoy "quick-service dining" (the people from McDonalds will appreciate my not referring to it as "fast food"), Arnie succumbs to all of the temptations available in the airport's food court by enjoying his first Big Mac. And he doesn't order just a plain Big Mac mind you. Instead, he supersizes the event in his own small way by asking, "May I please have a famous Big Mac, fries, and a cola." Only a famous hamburger will do for Arnie. Meek and mild though he is, only the best will give him the self-satisfaction he requires.
When crafting a novel creatively, it's the small things that count as much as the big ones. As you develop your great story, wonderfully written, look for every appropriate opportunity to give your people more of the self-satisfaction they so richly deserve.
Another thing that great people have, in both fact and fantasy, is great self-esteem. It is something that all of us, at some times in our lives, seem to lack, but that great characters in our stories always seem to have. And not only to they have great self-esteem, but they also have it in abundance.
To great people, everything about them is important. All that they are, each and every one of their actions and experiences, the sum and substance of their possessions. And by making your people raise their esteem in their own eyes you make your readers do the same thing as well.
Well into his first semester at GODA, Arnie Carver is asked by his deca to represent them in Doctor Ginger's Seven Uncharted Miles SUM Run. Arnie's physical prowess is, shall we say, somewhat underdeveloped, but his nine friends in his deca convince him that his photographic memory, which will allow him to learn the ever-changing map of Uncharted Island, makes him the man for the job. Once he modestly agrees, the contest takes on, in Arnie's mind, significant importance. He gets a sophomore student to tutor him about how best to win the race. They sneak off to Uncharted Island so he can learn all that there is to know about how to win. Arnie's high self-esteem says to him, if he is going to do anything, he is going to do it well.
Again, building memorable people requires working on them at all of their levels. External, internal, about big things and small. As you are crafting your characters, build up and then build upon more self-esteem for them so they will live up to being in your great story, wonderfully written.
The ultimate more, and in some circumstances, the final more, that you can give your story's people is more self-sacrifice. As Spock once said, while dying from trying to save the Enterprise, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one." No other thing is more nice, more noble, more heroically heroic than self-sacrifice.
While suffering discomfort instead of or on behalf of another is good, putting oneself in grave danger to save another is better, and actually giving one's own life or limb is best of all. It is what viewers will pay their quarter to watch, what listeners will fork over their dollar to hear, and what in which readers will most willingly invests their total selves to read. Nothing does it for a consumer of fiction more or better than to vicariously consume the all of another.
This great character trait is exhibited by Arnie Carver's entire deca as they accompany him on the first of the Arnie Carver Adventures to solve the "Plague of Demeverde." As Arnie strikes out alone for a more dangerous return trip to Uncharted Island than he had for the SUM Run, the rest of his deca fall in behind him with the justification that "If you go, we all go." As the events unfold and a sudden danger occurs, Arnie falls down a shaft accidentally and the rest of the deca follows him intentionally with the same motto, "If you go, we all go."
Such self-sacrifice is the same seen as when soldiers charge in amongst the enemy to fight a battle or firemen charge into a burning building to fight a fire. It is what makes most heroes most heroic and, hence, you must give your people more self-sacrifice if you want them to survive in the minds of your readers.
More MORE! and Then Some More
So there you have it in one little word, the secret to using people to drive your great story, wonderfully written. All you have to do is take ordinary people and make them extraordinary by giving them MORE!