Great Characters – Their Best Kept Secret

This article, by James Bonnet, originally appeared on The Writer’s Store site.

Have you ever wondered why characters like Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, Achilles, Scrooge, Dorothy and Superman go on forever? The real secret of their immortality lies in something you’ve probably never equated with the creation of a great character or a great story — the quintessential.

But if you fathom the secrets of this remarkable quality, you can use it to make your characters truly charismatic and merchandisable and just about everything else in your story more fascinating.

According to the dictionary, the quintessential is the most perfect manifestation or embodiment of a quality or thing. It is the ultimate, good or bad, best or worst, example. The world’s fastest runner is the quintessential runner. The world’s deadliest snake is the quintessential deadly snake. Hitler is the quintessential megalomaniac. Einstein is the essence of mathematical genius. He is symbolic of genius.

Applied to story, it means making the story elements the best example of that element. And that is, in fact, what great stories are all about. Great stories, myths and legends are dominated by quintessential elements.

Zeus is the most powerful god. Helen of Troy is the most beautiful woman. Achilles is the greatest warrior. King Arthur is the most chivalrous king. Camelot is the most fabulous kingdom. Excalibur is the most powerful sword. Samson is the strongest man. King Herod is the nastiest tyrant. King Solomon is the wisest and richest king.

It is the key to their success. Why? Because if you make something the most extraordinary example, you will make that idea more intriguing. A secret chamber is fascinating in itself, but you could make it even more fascinating by making it the most intriguing secret chamber of all time. The black hole of Calcutta is more fascinating than an ordinary prison. A perfect murder is more fascinating than an ordinary murder, and the most perfect murder of all time is more fascinating than your run-of-the-mill perfect murder.

If your story is about ghosts, injustice or romance, taking that subject to the quintessential will make that subject more fascinating. In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the subject of love is taken to the quintessential. It is the greatest love story of all time. ‘Harry Potter’ is about the most extraordinary magic the world has ever seen. ‘Gladiator’ is about the greatest tyranny. The Roman Empire is itself the quintessential empire. ‘The Perfect Storm’ is about the storm of the century. ‘Titanic’ is about one of the world’s worst disasters. All of which adds considerably to our fascination and interest in these stories.

The quintessential can be applied to any element of your story but is especially effective when applied to the professions and dominant traits of your characters. If you take these dimensions to the quintessential, you will make your characters more intriguing. They will make an important psychological connection and that will add significantly to the power of your work.

Read the rest of the article on The Writer’s Store site.

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