The Characters I Cry For

It’s 2:31am. I should be asleep. But instead I’m wiping my teary eyes with a tissue that unfortunately has lotion in it. (Oh, the sting!)

I just finished watching the last few episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here if you haven’t seen it.)

Yes, I love Star Trek. Yes, I’m a sucker for a good gripping narrative. Yes, this is a cast of unusually talented actors and screenwriters. Therefore, it makes sense I would be moved by the story’s culmination. But still. It’s been a long time since I cried openly during a television episode.

Which begs the question: what attributes make a character so believable, so three-dimensionally-human (even if they are NOT human), that readers invest emotionally as if the character were flesh and blood? As if they were real?

A 2014 Writer’s Relief article explores 5 Ways to Write Characters People Care About.  While I would argue DS9 as a series exemplifies all five, two stand out as particularly instrumental to the finale arc:

Give your characters idealistic qualities.

Make your characters take a stand on important issues.

DS9 ran seven seasons–plenty of time for viewers to get to know the regulars and the large cast of recurring guest stars–their virtues and their flaws. But in the end, the glory was in seeing these people rise above the struggles and doubts and prejudices that had plagued them for so long. We saw them act. Recklessly. Valiantly. Selflessly.

That is the heart of Star Trek; imagining society in a future that is both ideal and believable at the same time. These characters–they are us.

To admit when you were wrong. To stand for what is right, even when it is hard. To put duty before fear, and friendship before self. These are the virtues I will remember about these people, who, in the end, proved very real indeed.


One thought on “The Characters I Cry For

  1. I totally feel you here. While I never finished DS9 (shame), I did recently finish Person of Interest which lasted only 5 seasons. The last few episodes were gripping and emotional, and the last one in particular was heartbreakingly beautiful. I think it’s wonderful to be able to be drawn into a story like that and to be affected by the characters. It’s good storytelling and is so much more enjoyable than other stories which slip past their endings without impact, sputtering a little at the end. Fortunately for me, most of the stories I choose to invest in are ones that I like, and very few leave me disappointed at the finale.

    I totally agree with your assessment that it’s important for characters to be idealistic – every real story reader, watcher, or listener has an idealistic part of them that yearns to connect with that same part in a character they encounter – and perhaps even moreso to stand for something. If there’s nothing important enough to the best characters that they will risk everything for it, they stop being the best characters. And even more than that, it has to be something inherently worthy, or good, or true to make it meaningful. If they take a stand for something abhorrent, uninteresting, or suspect, it can take away what was a good story and leave the viewer/reader with an unpleasant taste to remember.

    There’s no shame in crying for characters. They are more than just fiction; they become us and we them. It’s ok to cry for them as you would for your friends. In fact, i think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t sometimes. 🙂


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