I suck with names…at least, when it comes to remembering the names (and matching them to the faces) of real people. Sorry, folks, but this includes remembering the names of my fellow writers. Even the names of my most favorite writers slip my mind, but don’t worry, I keep a list.
Funny thing is, though, that I do tend to remember the names of characters. I know Rand from the Wheel of Time series. I know Sorcha and Liadan and Fainne from the Sevenwaters trilogy, even if I don’t pronounce their names correctly in my mind. I know Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. I know Ged from the books of Earthsea.
While it’s probably a sign that I’m messed up in the head, often these characters feel more real than many of the real people I’m expected to know.
Imagine, then, how disappointing it is to be introduced to a book (via the book’s marketing) where the character is given such short shrift that the marketing material doesn’t even bother to name the protagonist of the story.
I’ll put it to you this way: I recently started watching the “old” television show 24 based on some recommendations. The name Jack Bauer popped up as a pop culture reference long before I had any interest in the show. Jack Bauer had a reality of his own, a sense of identity that I’d become familiar with without ever having watched a single episode. In contrast, it wasn’t until I started watching that first episode that I finally got the significance of the name “24.” Each season is aired in 24 episodes, one for each hour in a 24-hour period. For the show itself, this conceptual element was a major factor in its creation and the motivation of its regular, on-air viewers. In fact, I was only vaguely aware that it was “like a spy show,” so I didn’t even know that Jack Bauer was a counter-terrorism agent. But I knew Jack Bauer was a determined, active, get-it-done, no-holds-barred kind of guy.
Even when your story is concept-driven or plot-driven, your characters are an intrinsically essential element to your story. Characters matter. They’re who we identify with, who we care about, who we come to know. Use that! Use it every chance you get. In short, no matter how important your concept or your plot is to your story, your characters matter. If you want us to know and care about your work, tell us about your character(s)!