Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, famously said, “Our actions speak louder than words.” This sentiment is echoed by Louise Hay, a motivational author, who wrote, “Our actions are the result of our thoughts, and our thoughts are the result of our beliefs.” It is important to understand how our actions reflect our beliefs when it comes to connecting or disconnecting with characters in stories. As Lincoln wisely noted, our actions have the power to speak volumes about our character.
Characters are the backbone of any story, and the best ones are those that we can relate to. We love to put ourselves in the shoes of characters, especially the characters we are directly playing or the main protagonist of a story. We want to root for them, feel empathy for them, and ultimately see them succeed. But what makes a character relatable? And how do their actions connect or disconnect the audience?
Here are some ways in which a character’s actions can make them relatable to the audience:
- Sharing common struggles: Characters who face common struggles like financial difficulties, family issues, or health problems can be relatable to the audience. When we see characters going through similar struggles as ourselves, it creates a sense of empathy and understanding.
- Making mistakes: Characters who make mistakes and experience the consequences of their actions can be relatable to the audience, as most people have made mistakes in their lives. Seeing a character go through the same struggles we have, and ultimately learn from their mistakes, can create a powerful connection between the character and the audience.
- Having relatable motivations: Characters who have motivations that the audience can understand or identify with can be relatable. For example, a character who seeks love or acceptance, or a character who fights for justice or freedom.
- Facing difficult decisions: Characters who are forced to make difficult decisions can be relatable to the audience, especially if they face moral dilemmas that require them to choose between right and wrong. Seeing a character struggle with a difficult decision can create a sense of empathy and understanding.
- Sharing similar experiences: Characters who have gone through similar experiences as the audience can be relatable, as they provide a sense of connection and understanding.
- Shared morals: When a character shares the same morals as the audience and reacts to a moral dilemma, the audience can relate by thinking “I would do that too in that situation.”
Although, actions are a double-edged sword. While actions can help create relatability with the character, it can also create a disconnect.
Here are some ways a character’s actions can make them unrelatable to the audience:
- Acting in a way that goes against the audience’s moral code or values
- Making decisions that seem illogical or poorly thought out
- Failing to acknowledge the consequences of their actions
- Refusing to learn from their mistakes or grow as a character
- Acting in a way that is selfish or harmful to others without any justification or redemption
- Being consistently inconsistent with their actions or motivations
Let’s look at Joel from The Last of Us Part 1. I initially connected with him due to his protectiveness and love for his surrogate daughter Ellie, which was demonstrated through his actions and dialogue throughout the game. However, at the end of the game, Joel made a controversial decision that some players found to be unrelatable. Here are some reasons why:
- Joel’s decision to rescue Ellie from the Fireflies by killing many members of the group, including the leader, Dr. Marlene, was seen by some as morally questionable and inconsistent with his previous characterization.
- Some players believed that Joel’s decision prioritized his personal attachment to Ellie over the greater good of finding a cure for the Cordyceps virus, which was the Fireflies’ goal in studying Ellie’s immunity.
- Some players felt that Joel’s decision to lie to Ellie about the events that occurred at the hospital and the true nature of her immunity was a betrayal of their relationship and trust. This made Joel’s actions and motivations harder to relate to for some players.
When completing the game, I had to reflect on my experience. My initial reaction was that I felt betrayed by his actions at the end of the game, but I came to the conclusion to accept his actions because Joel is not supposed to represent me, he’s his own character. I likely wouldn’t have been forgiving to this betrayal of his character if it weren’t for the hours of character building prior to the ending.
In conclusion, a character’s actions are a powerful tool for creating relatability or disconnection with the audience. By sharing common struggles, making mistakes, having relatable motivations, facing difficult decisions, and sharing similar experiences, characters can become more relatable and beloved by the audience. On the other hand, acting in a way that goes against the audience’s moral code, making decisions that seem illogical or poorly thought out, failing to acknowledge the consequences of their actions, refusing to learn from their mistakes or grow as a character, acting in a way that is selfish or harmful to others without any justification or redemption, and being consistently inconsistent with their actions or motivations can make a character less relatable and less likable to the audience.
As J.K. Rowling, the acclaimed author of the Harry Potter series, once said, “In the end, we are our actions.” The actions of a character can make or break a story, so it’s important for writers to carefully consider the actions of their characters to ensure that they are relatable, consistent, and meaningful to the audience.