When I’m watching a movie, or reading a book there’s one thing that totally turns me right off. It’s not outlandish plots, or even unlikely premises – after all, who thought that a film where the characters transfer their consciousness into large blue people to live in an alternate world (Avatar) or live in different timelines (The Lake House) would be big hits at the box office?
I can believe anything. If the writing is good enough. And, most crucially, if I care about the characters.
Avatar deals with the concepts of greed and spirituality, and the watcher really cares about what happens to the blue people, and the team of scientists who care about them. It is, essentially, Pocahontas, altered and updated for a 21st century audience. Of course, the fact that it is a James Cameron production ensures that from the moment the character’s enter their blue bodies, we are drawn in, and the strangeness of the world portrayed vanishes as the story takes over.
The Lake House is another film that makes the watcher care, as it follows two people separated by time, but united by one place, an atmospheric lake house. Like Avatar, there are special effects, but the star of the film is the connection through time between the characters.
So, when writing, I always ask myself – do I care? Do I care about the characters and their struggle, are they sympathetic? Because if I don’t, my readers won’t either. And no matter how gripping the plot, or steamy the sex scenes, if there isn’t a strong, true connection between my characters and their readers, it ain’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Have you a favourite film or book where you care hugely about the characters? Or how about one where you couldn’t care less?