Building on our exploration of the dynamic trio from “Star Trek,” there’s another storytelling element to explore: individual character depth. While relationships between characters can drive a story forward, it’s the depth and layers of each character that make those interactions meaningful and compelling.
At the core of every character is motivation. What drives them? What do they fear, and what do they need? For Shrek, it’s the continuous struggle between his deep need for companionship and acceptance, versus the fear everyone around him has of him automatically. This battle doesn’t just make him a compelling character; it makes him universally relatable. Haven’t we all, at some point, wrestled with the need to belong?
The crucial question of what a character needs is what will propel most character growth. A character who has everything they mentally, emotionally, or spiritually want in life has exactly zero impetus to change, right? It’s the desire to change that propels every story from the tiniest comic to the longest saga.
Next, consider a character’s backstory. Where they come from, their past experiences, and the events that shaped them play a pivotal role in who they are in the story’s present. Shrek’s adamant desire for isolation and distrust of humans can be traced back to past rejections and experiences, adding layers to his character.
But depth isn’t just about the past. How a character evolves and grows throughout a narrative adds another layer of dimension. Fiona, initially a princess waiting for her knight in shining armor, matures into a confident ogress, embracing her true self and finding love in unexpected places, learning from both her successes and challenges.
Perfect characters are dull. Or even worse, annoying. It’s imperfections and vulnerabilities that make them human and relatable (or ogre and relatable). Whether it’s Shrek’s initial reluctance to open up to others or Donkey’s incessant chatter, these traits make them more genuine.
In my writing journey, I’ve realized that while plot drives a story forward, it’s characters with needs, backstories, and real flaws that anchor readers, making them care about the narrative’s outcome. As you craft your stories, invest time into truly getting to know your characters. Delve deep, unearth their layers, and let them shine in all their flawed, multi-dimensional glory.