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The Character in the Capsule

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

In James Michener's NASA-era epic novel "Space", a rocket scientist argues with a project manager that they already have the know-how and equipment to get to the moon and back.

Placing a man in the capsule dramatically and unnecessarily complicates the process.

In rebuttal the manager simply asks, "But then who will pay for it?"

Good point. Without a human being in that space-faring capsule - someone to cheer for - the American public would never support funding it.

Same is true with storytelling.

You might have a splendid plot all mapped out, wonderful twists and surprises to thrill the brains of your readers, flourishing language rife with clever phrasing.

Yet without a character at the heart of it to cheer for, no reader will ever care.

For stories to truly resonate, they must say something about us. About humanity. For escape. For entertainment. For edification.

They must provide opportunities for readers to join in on your adventures.

The character in the capsule.

The most effective primary characters are never all good, nor all evil.

They are a blend of both.

Few things in storyland are as droll as the bad guy who is fixated on, well, doing the bad thing.

Or the hero who has no kryptonite.

Or the supporting character whose sole purpose seems to revolve around the protagonist, reflecting only as much colour as the story needs from them.

Sure, sometimes a caricature or stereotype is handy when bringing in a fringe character - a threshold guardian, for instance. But beware the sin of forgetting how every minor character is the main character of their own story.

As they say in Hollywood: there are no small parts, only small actors.

For your readers to buy into your journey - and enjoy it enough to "pay for it" again with your next novel - never forget how crucial the character in the capsule is.

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