Char ac ter [kar-ik-ter]
- The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
- One such feature or trait; characteristic.
- Moral or ethical quality.
What is the importance of character? As a novelist, I feel character weighs more on the story than any other component. I feel obligated to give the reader enough background, personality, dialogue and action so they feel they know the people as well as I do. We all want to root for the good guys and root against the bad guys right?
I saw “The Hunger Games” in the theater yesterday, and a short discussion in a social forum got me thinking more about it. I didn’t care for the movie. But to be honest, I don’t think I’m the demographic either. I’m not a thirteen year old girl. A story of a skilled, sixteen year old heroine lusted over by two hunky male leads? Yeah…I’m not the demographic.
I was expecting hoping for more “Games”. More action. It moved a little slower than I wanted. But the movie raked in $150 million in the first weekend so I don’t think it’s going to be hurt by my comments. The females in my house enjoyed it, so maybe it’s safe to say “The Hunger Games” is a chick flick. I’m okay with that.
But that’s not why I didn’t like it.
I can enjoy a chick flick as much as the next person. Seriously. If it is engaging and has strong character development, then I’m in. Well…I’m in to some degree. You probably aren’t going to get me to watch “Sex in the City.” But I digress.
My problem with “The Hunger Games” was what I felt was a lack of character development. I kept thinking throughout the movie “I really don’t care about these people”. I read all three books in six days. I devoured them. And not to say they were my favorite books of all time, but each page gave me a reason to like or dislike certain characters. I knew Katniss Everdeen, so I knew why she made the decisions she made. The movie didn’t give that. It glossed over real emotion and depth to give me detail I didn’t need.
For me, I don’t need the movie to be EXACTLY like the book. Mix it up, change a few things, take some creative license! But make it good and make it believable. Skip some plot detail and give me some characters that I care about or that I’d really like to see get stuffed.
Which led me to thinking…What is the importance of character? Have we (the proverbial we, as in us as a society) ultimately decided that strong character development isn’t important? Do we care more about The Look?
Let me switch gears on you.
Ask me if I would use oxygen on Everest and my answer would probably be…I don’t know. I’d like to think my answer would be no; that I’d think it unsporting. But the truth is I really don’t know.
You see, today I use the most advanced gear I can afford. I use synthetics when I’m out hiking because they dry quicker, keep me warmer when wet and are lighter. I have the latest in technology for my wetsuit when I’m in the water. If I’m being honest, I don’t like to be miserable or cold or uncomfortable.
And I’m not proud of it. I struggle with the notion that it says something about my character. About me. I’ve seen the old black and white photographs of the golden age of exploration and I have this romantic fascination with the grisled, weather beaten faces. The harsh backgrounds. The woolen knickers. These were men. Men of character.
But would these men use the technology of today if we transported it back in time? The argument could go either way. The point is we’ll never know. All we can hold onto is that these men did extraordinary things with determination. These men conquered the world with grit and character.
Which brings me back to the beginning.
What is the importance of character?
My answer? Character is the most important element to telling a story. But character is also the most important element of how a story is remembered. A key distinction. We have to know the characters for us to care about the story. We have to like the characters for us to remember it. Really disliking a character (for the right reasons) helps too.
I think “The Hunger Games” will have a long life because the books provide the character development we need to care. I don’t know about the movie. Maybe the second installment shakes off the ridiculous hype and gives us something more akin to the final Harry Potter movies or maybe even “The Dark Knight”. Rich with character…
As for the real world? I think the jury is still out. It will be interesting to see in fifty years if we are still talking about something like the youngest person to climb the seven summits. Is there more to the story than just being the youngest? Is there a development of character that will draw us in and keep us hooked? I hope so. I hope we are still driven to accomplish unimaginable feats because of the story and not because of the dollar.
I hope that as a society the importance of character weighs out and we value the story more than the glossy photograph or one dimensional article. I hope we look for character so that we can learn about it, talk about it, debate it and ultimately…remember it.
And maybe, just maybe, it makes us better because of it.