In Focus: Categories for Characters

The focus of your character. In this blog, I will most likely polarize readers. Everyone–well, almost everyone–wants their hero or villain to be memorable in some form or another, and most mistake unforgettable with the nobility of cause or menacing aura. In a little while, I will analyze the elements, but for now, let’s explore some unique characters. Remember, this is my interpretation of the characters. You may look at them and see something different, and that’s okay.

The first person that comes to mind–for books, mind you–is Harry Potter. What’s remarkable about him besides he’s the chosen one marked by Voldemort? He possesses no extraordinary powers of the magical kind. He’s no Dumbledore. So, what’s special about him? In my mind, specifically in the last few chapters of Goblet of Fire when Voldemort returned, and in the Deathly Hallows, Harry seemed to be at his weakest or at least, vulnerable. In that instant, I thought, Harry’s going to die.

Moving to the silver screen, the first is a villain, Darth Vader. This figure is dressed in black with a long flowing cape, kills subordinates for failure, chops off his son’s hand and tries to recruit him to the dark side. Despite not winning Employer of the Year or expecting anything for Father’s Day, he’s quite significant with his breathing and deep, resonant voice, and towering frame. And that’s not mentioning his artifact, the powerful thrum of his red lightsaber. Another individual from the same universe is Han Solo, the slick smuggler who’s in a lot of trouble with Jabba the Hutt.

For a TV show, two strong female characters are Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark. One is remembered for her long, platinum blonde hair and the mother of dragons and the other for her journey from a daughter of House Stark to one of the Faceless Men. There are a plethora of reasons why each is infamous, be it quirky lines, tongue in cheek humor, internal conflicts, or decisions that make us cringe.

So, what is our character focus? You can argue that focus is another word for theme, but let’s not confuse the difference between the theme of the novel or writing to the character focus. I always found, in books or movies, that I respond more strongly to the focal point when grounded in reality. The Dark Knight trilogy is an excellent example of grounding it into reality. It’s Batman, a comic book incarnation, a human with superb intellect and physical conditioning, but a human none the less. In this incarnation, he relied on gadgets and technology, something a real Batman would need. Further, his technology, though some might still be unachievable, is grounded in the rules of technology we know. In a sense, the trilogy gave us a ‘real’ example at Batman.

So, how does this apply to your character focus and story? Here is the polarizing effect. I argue your lead or supporting cast will be more memorable if your reader can relate to something visceral and familiar. To me, there are four main categories, though an argument can be made for more: money, power, sex, and family. In the simplest of forms, these factors drive the world today. Religion can be another one, but not everyone is religious, and if I argue here, then not everyone will be driven by the four mentioned categories above. Let’s break it down.

Almost everyone is influenced by the sway of the dollar. We need money to pay for essentials and other items falling under the ‘wants’ category. We want a nice retirement, a large house, a newer car, to provide for our family. Is this something driving your character, the material wealth? Han Solo exemplifies this, especially in a New Hope, where he takes on desperate passengers Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. He was looking for a big payout to get out from under Jabba’s thumb. If your lead is swimming in money like Bruce Wayne, then it is not a motivating factor.

Power is the next application. Almost every story is about power, be it magical, mythical, or majestic. You rarely find heroes drawn to it, but they do exist. Darth Vader is a prime example of a power-driven individual. He is second in the Empire, but he had aspirations of overthrowing the emperor since the beginning. He went as far to recruit his son to help him do it. The mother of dragons is also another prime example of power-driven role, and that doesn’t make her bad. She wants her ancestral throne in the seven kingdoms. She has an army, ships, dragons, and intent, but will she capitalize on it? Remember: there are many types of powers, superpowers, tyrannical, political, corporate, domineering… the list is almost endless.

Sex. The taboo subject for most Americans. Those who are not driven by the first two often find themselves in this category. ‘What makes you say that’ you might ask? For those with authority and money, they reached the pinnacle of those fields, and there is little else to achieve unless they crave a new type of prestige. A business tycoon purchasing another company is a way of expanding their base, or a governor running for President. I am sure you’ve heard the tales about CEO’s who seek the company of a dominatrix. Out in the real world, they hold all the power, but they give up their claim when they are in her presence, and it is a way to relieve stress. True, sex may not be involved, but you are entering a realm where the lines become blurred. Maybe your character is dying for affection and was often the object of ridicule while growing up. No woman would ‘ever’ love him, so he must pay for that affection. You also have the men and women who are players of the field, and they find gratification in picking up an unsuspecting mark at a bar, club, etc. Is your character driven by this? It’s okay if they are. If anything, it makes them far more interesting because the first two choices are the most typical, and the last one may not appeal to everyone.

The focal point of family can be extended to close friends. If you have no family, your best friends are yours. Harry Potter and Arya Stark fall in this category. Harry has lost his mom and dad and never knew them. Ron and Hermione make up his new family. Arya Stark is driven by the loss of her father. Family compels both of them, but though they share a commonality, how far do they diverge from one another? Who says family cannot be an attractive choice?

Religion and other focuses. If your cast is a warrior priest, obviously this might be the logical choice, but you may want to shift attention from his pious nature to wrestling with his code against sex, violence, power, and material wealth. Remember, your audience can relate to those, but they may not to his prayers for strength. Does he keep to his path or does the Jezebel in the next town over make him falter? As stated before, you can have others, but the further you move from the core, the more obscured it becomes to your reader.

So, what category does your reader fall into? Remember, their category can be the antithesis of what you just read. Maybe they could be a tyrant or benevolent emperor, and the struggle is to fight the impulse because people should be free. All of your characters can have the power focus but of different types. Remember, a lot of these go hand in hand, so don’t discard one because you don’t like it. Push yourself out of the comfort zones and write something masterful.

If you enjoyed this content or you’re an avid, epic fantasy reader, check out my book, The Bearer of Secrets, on Amazon. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and print.

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