Why do we keep reading, watching, playing? Story? Character?
We’re currently addicted to watching “Homeland” on Netflix. But why?
As a storyteller, I’m always looking for how a story is told–and what pulls us in.
If I take my own, personal look at why I want to watch the next episode of Homeland (and why, at the crack of dawn before no one else is awake in my house, I want to watch even more), I want to know:
- What’s going to happen to Carrie Mathison? (character)
- If good will triumph over evil. (story) Will they find out that the CIA station chief (the red-haired woman) is behind two plots to sabotage Carrie–and the country.
- Will Carrie ever sit down, watch a movie, and enjoy some popcorn with Frannie? (character) Poor Carrie, always looking over her shoulder or trying to solve the next case. Take a break!
- How are they going to work together to solve the next plot? (story) There’s always something bad happening. We should really just watch Bambi. But you know they’re going to solve it, we just don’t know how. How will they work together to succeed? We’re curious.
- What else are we going to learn (that we kinda don’t really want to know) about how the CIA really works, how corrupt it is, how many bad guy leaks are in there, and how backroom dealings really run the world? (curiosity)
Drama, tension, suspense. We just want to know what’s going to happen next. But if we dig deeper, what is it that we want to know? Is it because we care about the characters? Or is there a larger umbrella of something (story, plot, twists, action, ?) that is drawing us in.
But it’s not a documentary. It’s not just “The Secret Way the CIA Really Works.” Sure, that’d be interesting too but we’d watch for 2 hours and we’d be done and have learned something.
What’s the difference between a documentary and a thriller/drama/story?
Is that just it? Story? Characters?
So how can I make my own stories better? More page turners? How can you create characters that people want to keep reading (or watching) for?
Why do I like (or at least care about the future of) Carrie?
Let me count the ways (off the top of my head):
- Vulnerable. She might not make it. I mean, sure, she’s the main character, they’re probably not going to kill her off, but still, I’m hopeful for her well-being.
- Unpredictable. Maybe it’s her bi-polar thinking, maybe it’s just how determined she is (most people wouldn’t dare do half the stuff she does). But you don’t really ever know her next move. She’s truly different. Maybe that’s partly to do with her condition, but at least some of it is her personality.
- Underdog. She’s not the bigshot, clean cut, CIA star. She’s modest, she’s willing to do anything, she wants to do good, she wants to get the bad guys. She’s honest and has a good heart. We’re rooting for her.
Is #3 the most important? She’s the underdog, not the favorite to win the race. Isn’t the underdog the fun one, the popular one to root for?
Hey, I gotta go. Need to get some things done so that maybe we can … sneak in an episode of Homeland today.