Why does a character exist in a story?
To further the plot, of course, say all the literature undergrads out there.
Most of us have read dreadful, self-serving fanfiction and horrible “debut novels” whose characters are floating in a miasma of interior thought, activity and poseurship. A character’s presence in these stories serves only one purpose- to be seen being themselves. Whether Harry Potter, or Jack Bauer, or Zack and Cody, a story in which characters have nothing to do but be seen being themselves bores our suspension of disbelief to death. A character is at their best when they are doing something, or making those necessary actions required to be available to do something at just the right moment in the Plot.
The only time a character, even a much-beloved one, serves a purpose in static action is to achieve enlightenment of purpose or fullness of character. Internal enlightenment and fullness of character, however, are meaningless if the character does not take that growth and use it in the plot of their story.
How does this literary truth translate into real life?
Each of us are characters in the story of the world. Call it God’s story if you will, or Mother Nature’s, or even a serendipitous Magnolia-esque tale meant to provide meaning in its own mechanics. Every being on the planet is a character in this great story.
We therefore have two responsibilities as characters, ones with which any author would indeed concur.
1. We must spend our time as characters advancing the Plot. Sometimes this means introspective actions, or montages of learning, working or being with family. Sometimes this means being at the forefront of plot arcs by standing up in the community amongst our fellow characters. As characters we fall to the level of bad, bad fanfiction if we live our lives as debutantes, existing merely for the sake of being seen as the personalities we think we are.
2. As characters therefore in the story of the world, we owe it to those who watch us in ways we cannot conceive to remain available to the story. Anyone who has watched serial television can attest to the swelling of affinity and happiness one feels at the return, even for a cameo, of a well-known character to the plot. We must make ourselves available for a guest appearance in the lives of other characters we may think hold us in little regard, or have moved on from our own stories. We must also make ourselves available to be the bit player in another’s story so that the smallest of our actions may unfold for the good of the whole in unexpected ways.
Removing ourselves as characters from the world removes the ability of the author of the Story to use us to further the plot of which we are all a part. As any devotee of a fictional universe victimized by the untimely and largely senseless death of a character would agree, it is the worst, most senseless action to remove a character from a story before its work with the plot is complete. It makes all the other characters in the story have to run to pick up the frayed threads left behind when the character was ripped away. Death leaves a large hole in our ficitonal worlds, and it leaves a gaping maw full of resentment and unanswered questions in real life.
If we exist in the world as beings, we are therefore here to advance the Plot.
As authors of our own stories in the greater Plot, don’t be the sort of writer who writes bad fanfiction, where the characters’ time is spent wallowing in how they feel they are perceived, or worrying over plot points that may seem insurmountable.
Also, don’t be the sort of cheap writer who removes a character just for the sake of some cheap, sweeps-week oriented energies.
Be a good character and a good author. Do what you can every day to make yourself available for plot advancement. Keep yourself available, because you never know when your character’s comeback is just what the Plot may need.
– Tony Stark.