Have you ever been so interested in a particular character that you start thinking about their lives outside of the one presented to you?
Doesn’t really matter the medium (video games, novels, television, movies, comic books, etc), there are certain stories that stick with us, that have us daydreaming about the lives of the characters we become attached to. For me that sometimes manifests within learning more about that character’s back story if it wasn’t discussed in detail. Especially their upbringing with their family.
Although we’re a bit removed from Father’s Day now, something that’s been on my mind for the past few weeks is this idea of a character’s family upbringing and just how many more layers of depth that can be added by parsing that concept. It’s relatable to real life in a way. We all have our own personal stories and they usually originate from our parents, which makes sense given that they’re the reason that we’re even alive in the first place. Their dreams and aspirations, failures and shortcomings, individual journeys, and how they raise us (if they’re in our lives) provide the foundation for how we start off in this world; and this is analogous to some of my favorite characters in fiction (something to discuss in-depth in a later post) and it’s more important to a character’s personal motivation than you might originally think.
Think about one of the most well-known fictional characters in popular culture and his back story: Batman. At first thought, this seems silly right? Ok, so his parents were killed and he became a superhero in order to avenge them. Sounds just like what a children’s story would have in it right? But dig a bit deeper and you realize just how psychologically damaged Bruce Wayne could be due to this very traumatic experience that shaped his life from then on:
- He has a solemn vow never to kill, regardless of the rampant destruction and death caused by his enemies. His rationale is to morally avoid the slippery slope, knowing that once he started, he may never stop.
- His refusal to ever use guns due to it being the very representation of taking away what he held dear the most….his family.
- He contains a persistent anti-social element that stops him from emotionally connecting to just about anyone.
- Left alone in that dark alley with his dead parents, he then embodied that same fear of the dark, utilizing something foreboding like a bat to instill dread in the criminals he hunted.
Breaking down a few of his characteristics, you start realizing how important his parents influence, or lack thereof, was in establishing the primary character that has now been around for over fifty years. A bit tongue in cheek, but it still applies.
Your family, in an ideal world, would have only the best intentions for you. They would ensure that all they do would be for your eventual benefit as you became older and became aware of it. But as we all know, things rarely go as planned and it’s the portion between ideal and reality that some of the best moments can be mined and captured for our viewing or reading pleasure. Does Harry Potter end up on the same path without the death of his parents in the prelude to the story? In Walking Dead, would Carl’s perception of the world have evolved to the point it has without Rick providing protection and time for him to grow into an independent young man? Would Justin have the same thirst for exploring the unknown without hearing stories about his missing father from his mother in Grandia?
I still feel like my thoughts are barely scratching the surface, but that’s ok. I don’t necessarily need to have the answer now (if there is one), but I do think it’s important to acknowledge a wide variety of characteristics about your main protagonist besides just what they look like. Even if that information doesn’t enter the story directly, it helps to directly fuel the rationale for how they interact with the world; and through their experiences hopefully gain some meaningful understanding of it….or not. Who knows.
Until next time.