A Rose (or a Jack) by Any Other Name . . .

What makes a story great?  What makes a movie, or a novel, unforgettable?  Nonstop action?  A fantastic and imaginative plot?  A surprise, twist ending?  Romance?  Incredible special effects, or descriptions of those effects, if in book form?  Certainly these elements can lend themselves to a great story.  And–especially for a short story or a short television episode–sometimes a clever plot or a shock ending is enough.  A short work such as “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, for example, is memorable in large part because of its theme, its plot, and its impact as a story that tackles the issue of blind adherence to tradition, to doing things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

But for a novel, an ongoing television series, or a movie–the one thing that is essential is character.  Without at least one highly developed character we can learn to love (or hate), any long story will fall a little flat.  It can still be entertaining, fun, a wonderful adventure.  But it won’t resonate the same way a story with effective characters will.  All the great films and novels have characters who reach us, touch us, and leave a lasting impression.

James Cameron understood this when he created Titanic.  Love it or hate it, Titanic was the highest grossing film of all-time before Avatar broke the record.  It won 11 Academy Awards.  Why?  What made it such a hit with audiences around the world?

titanicposter

 

Certainly the subject matter was a winner.  Who isn’t fascinated and moved by the tragedy of the Titanic?  The real-life tale seems almost too contrived to be true.  “The unsinkable” ship sinking on its maiden voyage?  In a purely fictional context, audiences might not buy such a far-fetched idea.  But the Titanic has mesmerized people for a hundred years.  How did it happen?  What went wrong?  Why did the captain not change course when he knew there were icebergs in the great ship’s path?  The questions abound, and historians have puzzled over them and tried to solve them for decades.

titanic

 

 

titanicsinking

 

titsink2

 

There have been many movies made on the RMS Titanic over the years.  With material like this, you can’t go wrong.  Right?  Not really.  While some of the films did fairly well–particularly the 1958 British adaptation, A Night to Remember (generally regarded by historians as the most accurate portrayal of the real-life disaster to date), based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord–none of them were major hits.   And some were forgettable from the moment they hit the screen.

A_Night_to_Remember_(film_poster)

 

So–what was missing?  Cameron decided, correctly as it turned out–character.  A film like A Night to Remember was gripping, accurate, well acted.  But it didn’t give the audience any individual passenger they could truly get to know and care about.  The star of the movie, in effect, was the ship itself.  Cameron turned that around and created fictional characters to go along with the real-life personalities who were also on his ship.

He centers the movie around Rose and Jack, two fictional characters whose love story and torrid romance take center stage.

rose

 

jack

 

Cameron realized that, as remarkable and captivating as the real story of the RMS Titanic is–a landmark film needs to bring things down to the level of an individual, or two individuals, who viewers can relate to, care about, root for, and invest in.  If we can see the grand disaster of the Titanic through these characters’ eyes, we can be transported more effectively onto the ship ourselves.  We can experience more profoundly what the passengers felt, their panic, their desperation, their all-too-frequent futile attempts to cling to life.  We can be, in essence, a virtual passenger in our own right.  By focusing so much on just two individuals, entering into their lives, their hopes, their fears and dreams, we are, ultimately if counter-intuitively, better able to see and feel the enormity of the disaster as a whole.

romancetit

 

It is my hope that The Eye-Dancers accomplishes something similar.  While the story is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure of parallel worlds and ghost girls and journeys through endless blue voids, it is, at its heart, also a story about four boys who must learn to confront and deal with their own insecurities and hang-ups while in the midst of extreme adversity.  And I hope readers will cheer them on, become frustrated with them at times, perhaps, but in the end care for them and root for them, and become more invested in the story and the fantasy because of them.

Call her Rose, or Sharon, or Rapunzel.  Call him Jack, or Steve, or Hezekiah.  The names don’t matter.

But the characters do.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue Dreamwalker
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 20:07:12

    Books have to en-captivate the reader and we need to get caught up within the real worlds of emotions between individuals .. We are all of us caught up within the emotions of our own experiences… A story has to speak to our hearts and feelings also… So I so wish you well and think you have got the right combinations going to have a really Best Seller on your hands…

    Loved Titanic .. and have it in my own film library 🙂
    Have a great weekend
    Sue

    Reply

  2. Lauren Fleming
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 20:49:00

    I love Titanic. It’s a great movie, and I think you’re completely spot-on with your reasoning behind how it went right as opposed to the other movies that went horribly wrong.

    It’s not even (spoiler alert, but who hasn’t seen it by now?) when Jack dies that I cry. It’s when the musicians play “nearer my God to thee.” and they show all of these minor characters preparing for the end. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Of course, there’s also the very end, as they show all those pictures Rose brought with her, demonstrating how fulfilling a life she led, how much better her life was for knowing Jack, if even for such a short time.

    It’s such a great story all around.

    If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to cry.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 01, 2013 @ 21:14:22

      You’re excused.:) And as you mention, it just goes to show the impact characters can have on us. We need to care about the people on the screen (or the page), or else we’re not going to get so engrossed in the story.

      Reply

  3. valentina
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 21:55:38

    Insightful and extremely well written! 😀 Now, that you mention it, yes! Your article is an eye-opener! Thank you for sharing! 😉

    Reply

  4. Trackback: A Rose (or a Jack) by Any Other Name . . . | En el Jardín de los Elefantes
  5. valentina
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 22:21:23

    Reply

  6. elizjamison
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 22:36:51

    “But for a novel, an ongoing television series, or a movie–the one thing that is essential is character. Without at least one highly developed character we can learn to love (or hate), any long story will fall a little flat.”

    This quote says it all.

    Reply

  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 23:42:43

    You are completely correct in saying we need a character to hang our hat on., I read a lot of boring factual material which really means very little until a real person or person is included to make it personal. If it seems real we can relate to the story.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:11:37

      Yes–this is very true. Think of statistics. We can read about crime statistics, and shake our heads, for example, wishing it weren’t so. But the numbers don’t really reach us. Or–we can witness or read about a crime and how it affects even one person–but if we get to know that person well, we often become much more impacted and affected.

      Reply

  8. fortyoneteen
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 01:16:52

    I agree! I am a ucker for a good character, and it don’t even have to be likeable! As long as they stir some emotion, some bond then they’ve won me. Great post Mike.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:13:02

      You’re so right about that–a character does not need to be likeable. They just need to inspire some sort of visceral or emotional response within us. They need to make us care . . .

      Reply

  9. picturemereading
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 13:06:53

    I think it’s the romance along with the tragic setting..and the sense that we know something bad is about to happen but we are still hoping they will somehow make it and be together!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:14:29

      Yes–we definitely root for them! Another reason why character is essential. If there’s no one to root for (or against), we will lose interest in a story pretty quickly.

      Reply

  10. mcwoman
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 13:52:44

    You are so right, Mike. Characters are what we remember–be it movies, books, stories, etc. Knowing the fictional characters we create as writers is more important than the best description of anything. We have to connect on an emotional level with the character, so we can relay that to our readers. Great post. I so enjoy your blog.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:16:26

      Thank you! I always enjoy hearing from you! And you’re right about the characters we create as writers. When I’m writing a novel, a part of me is in a parallel world, right there with my characters. They become as real to me as if they were standing right there in front of me . . .

      Reply

  11. worldsbeforethedoor
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 15:33:47

    You hit the nail on the head. The main reason I love both Star Trek NG and Firefly is the character. I think Joss Whedon understands this and that is why is movies and shows do so well. It’s the characters we care about. It’s Rocky, Rambo and John McClane. We care about the characters. A bad story can be amazing if the characters are someone you can love. A great story can be shelved cause you can’t relate or love the characters. So true!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:19:01

      You bring up many good examples here! A lot of people laugh at Rocky now because of all the sequels, the corniness, etc. But Rocky I was great. A true character study. At the time, Stallone was not well-known at all. But Rocky connected with people everywhere–all because people got to know Rocky Balboa the person, feel for him, like him as a character . . .

      Reply

  12. Christy Birmingham
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 16:37:41

    The characters in the Titanic movie were so well developed. I remember crying, even though we all know the tragic end because I got so caught up in the moment with Jack and Rose.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:20:44

      And that says something! When a story can reach us and move us, even when we already know ahead of time how it will all end up, that speaks a lot to the characters and how we connect with them as an audience.

      Reply

  13. seeker
    Mar 03, 2013 @ 02:27:49

    This all makes sense to have other characters in the story. This gives me food for thought on how I convey my pilgrim story. I am not familiar about these characters but I remember Leonardo di Capro. 😀

    Reply

  14. Lakeshia Artis
    Mar 03, 2013 @ 20:39:06

    I absolutely adored Titanic. I fell in love with Rose and Jack. I remember seeing it in December 1997. The story was powerful and sad. I couldn’t imagine being on a cruise ship sinking and knowing you were about to die. Great article.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:22:57

      Thank you! And again–it just goes to show the impact of great characters. A novel or a movie with characters you love (or hate) will stay with you for the long haul.

      Reply

  15. acflory
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 10:59:59

    Lovely post Mike, and you’ve given me a little thrill. Character is exactly what I look for in the sci-fi I read. The tech isn’t enough. Neither is the plot. It has to be the whole package. I’m going to check out your Eye Dancers coz you sound like my kind of writer. 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 04, 2013 @ 15:26:07

      Thanks! And I couldn’t agree with you more. The truly memorable sci-fi is always character-driven. The gadgets and fantastic concepts are all great. But without characters we can invest in and care about, they are just so much window-dressing.

      Reply

  16. coyotero2112
    Mar 04, 2013 @ 16:36:33

    What makes a character tick is fascinating because we are all characters in the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. Character is what we create every time we interact with another. I’ve always been hooked by characters with some physical flaw…a little bit of pain. Most characters seem to be defined by their mental flaws, which is convenient to the arc of the story…do they change? But, physical flaws, like a sore tooth, really make characters stand up and walk around, at least to me. Good work…glad I found your blog…or you found mine – whatever.
    Later…

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 05, 2013 @ 16:16:55

      That is an interesting point–characters with physical flaws. You’re right–that is much rarer . . .

      Reply

      • coyotero2112
        Mar 05, 2013 @ 16:49:38

        Kelly Link, a few years ago hot short story writer told me she always gives main characters some little pysical pain connected to point or action of story. One called “The Donner Party” is perfect example, guy is travelling with woman who is a pain, and he’s got a toothache, which seems to flare up whenever she’s becoming problematic. It sure makes him seem human, and everybody has experienced some kind of pain…and problematic characters in their life.
        Laer…

  17. jamieayres
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 02:27:26

    You’re making me want to watch Titanic again! And your story sounds equally gripping!

    Reply

  18. Honeydidyouseethat?
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 15:30:58

    Great blog. Used to teach “The Lottery.” Just downloaded “The Eye-Dancers.” Using Titanic as a comparison makes me have great expectations.

    Reply

  19. becky6259
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 17:47:04

    You make a lot of good points about developing characters in a story that I hadn’t thought about — good post!

    Reply

  20. leamuse
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 07:42:59

    Well done! You share some excellent food for thought.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: