I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my college writing professor about our favorite aspects of storytelling. We’d just finished up a writing class, and I was having trouble digesting the feedback that I’d gotten. The character were reading flat. There just wasn’t much going on there, though I refused to believe it at the time.
So she asked, “What’s your favorite part of a story?”
“The plot,” I said. No hesitation.
I was always interested in what happened next. So interested, in fact, that knew — absolutely knew — that plot was the thing that all stories were built around. In some aspects, that’s completely true. Stories need a plot, after all. They have to go somewhere.
The look on her face told me I was wrong.
“My favorite parts,” she said, “are the characters.”
Now, if you’re a reader who loves characters or a writer who is already on board with this, the answer seems glaringly obvious. To a twenty-something amateur fantasy writer who was more interested in myths and magic and building fantastic worlds, her answer seemed a little thin.
She explained that she didn’t care much for plot. Some of her favorite stories could have characters sitting at a table, drinking a cup of tea, and having a revelation or epiphany while the drink cooled. As long as she cared about the characters, she’d happily follow the story anywhere. Without them, though, what was the point of going anywhere in the first place?
There’s a reason I remember that conversation over a decade later. It’s lingered in the back of my mind since that day. I think about it every time I sit down to write. While I don’t know that I’ll ever be completely on board with characters and tea, I do know that she was trying her best to point me in the right direction.
If you create characters that people love, your readers will follow them anywhere.
It’s just that simple.