A few months ago, my dear friend Deborah Koren, her sister, and I were ruminating on just what makes us like certain movies, TV shows, and books, and what makes us either not care for or actively dislike others. Was there a common denominator, we wondered? A discernible pattern that could explain our tastes, maybe even predict whether or not we would like something.
We came to what we now fondly call the Realization. There IS something for each of us that draws us to one story and repels us from another. And every person has their own particular thing!
For me to really like a movie/show/book, I have to want to be friends with several characters. Not all, necessarily, but if I have a desire to hang out with some of them, I'm going to like it, maybe even love it. It holds true for every single story that I'm drawn to. And if there are no characters I want to befriend? I can recognize the story as well-told, well-acted, etc, but I am not going to like it, certainly not love it. I am not going to want to watch or read it over and over.
Deborah, on the other hand, needs there to be at least one character that she would like to be. Someone she identifies with or can imagine herself being. Totally, completely different thing, and this explains so clearly why a movie that I adore will leave her cold, and something that has her all fired up will make me shrug my shoulders.
We started applying the Realization to everything we ran across, and it has not failed us yet.
Just in the last few days, however, we have had a Revelation that sharpens the Realization just a bit. That helps us figure out not merely whether we will like a movie/show/book, but which characters we will like best. It turns out that each of us is drawn to characters that share one particular trait with ourselves.
Me? I am completely drawn to helpful people. If someone needs help, and another character steps in to assist them, I'm going to like that helper. If they turn the other way and don't help, I'm not going to like them at all. Doesn't matter if they help willingly or with a mutter of annoyance, they just need to be helpful. You line up every single character that I love unreservedly -- Sgt. Saunders, Angel, Sawyer, Wolverine, Thor, Han Solo, Agent Seeley Booth, Jim Craig, Willow Rosenberg, Heath Barkley -- every single one is helpful. And I am all about helping! If I can't be helpful or useful, I get kind of annoyed with the world. (This doesn't mean I like every helpful character -- Jack Shepard comes to mind -- but every character I do like is helpful.)
Deborah, on the other hand, loves characters who protect others. And she says that, as an older sister, she grew up with a great need to protect her younger sister and also anyone else who might need it.
We've shared the Realization with several friends, and so far, every single friend has figured out their own common denominator for stories, and been delighted to see how it explains what had previously seemed like crazy, random happenstances.
So now I'm sharing this with you, gentle readers. If you feel like getting to know yourself a bit better, see if you can figure out what trait your liked movies/shows/books share. What is it that draws you to the story, to the characters? What repels you? And what is the make-or-break reason you like or dislike a character? If you have your own Realization and/or Revelation, please comment here, because I find this completely fascinating.