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Steven Beeho – The Value of Believable Characters

The Value of Believable Characters

by Steven Beeho

I love characters and usually it is they who win me over. Plots can be great, but once done with I rarely go back. It is the characters who keep me interested. I can read the same story over and over if I love the characters. If I don’t, it will have to be a brilliant plot to draw me in.

Let’s take the Lord of the Rings. Did I ever doubt they wouldn’t make it to Mount Doom and end of Sauron? Of course not (although they would have blown it if not for Gollum). But I loved the characters and wanted to see what they went through. The fact the adventure changed the four hobbits made it even better. I would reread to remind myself of the jolly chaps they were and would keep reading to watch them become the war veterans they end up being.

I love the amazing characters, the ones who can do the incredible. Even so, we want to believe in them. We want to get where they are coming from. So often the motivations of heroes and villains are simple. Love and lust, ambition and altruism are things we can see in those around us – in ourselves sometimes – so when they are present in characters, we can believe in them. If we see a character threatened and it makes them behave differently, it works due to fear. We accept it. If a character does something unusual for no reason, we wonder why.

Relating to superheroes seems important these days. Many think that is why Marvel is succeeding and the godlike heroes of DC (apart from the always cool Batman) are struggling. We want to ‘get’ our heroes. We like when they behave normally. I don’t fully share this view, but I see why it works. It is all well watching a movie about a hero who does the right thing because, hey, it’s the right thing to do, but watching someone act on their interests – saving someone they love, defeating someone they hate – means we relate. We can imagine us doing the exact same, given similar powers. It means we give that bit more of a damn.

Let’s return to the Lord of the Rings. I love Boromir. He’s fearless, yet he is almost defined by failure. However, he is doing something many of us would do – grab the one hope for his people. Most of us are not wise or noble. We make mistakes. We hope, like Boromir, to make up for them sometime. Preferably not to the same cost.

Even the wise Gandalf and the noble Aragorn are believable. Gandalf fears Sauron and is deceived by Saruman. Aragorn fears failing like his ancestor. When they are afraid, we share it. To not fear the Nine or the Uruk-hai would be ridiculous. It would also feel as if nothing is at stake.

We want to share in the great adventures of the heroes in our books. For that they need to be believable. When they seem too good to be true, we become suspicious. We are often cynical. We love to leave that behind and lose ourselves in fiction.

Oddly, for us to fully embrace the unbelievable, we must believe in our characters.

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Genre – Post- Apocalypse Sci-Fi

Rating – PG13

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