Invest them in the world.
A new writer understands the world must impress them (the audience) it’s real. A classic mistake is to believe for it to feel genuine their simulation must copy every aspect of our day-to-day lives. With these 7 steps to engaging the audience any work can be popular too. In step #5, the audience is made to believe in the world when relationships are used to flesh out the protagonist’s reality.
A Balanced World
In The Shawshank Redemption we step into a prison world that is populated by all sorts of criminals with all sorts of vices. One faction is all about their libido and seek to satisfy their desires through beatings and rape. We see one gang force themselves on Andy and give a face to this group. Another faction seeks creature comforts, they aren’t rotten men but made bad choices stemming from a negative environment. Red, our narrator and secondary protagonist, surrounds himself and his acquisitions business with this group. These groups provide the prison world with the realism the audience expects, one is the darker side of humanity and the other the more gray side. Heywood and minor characters, Skeet, Jigger, Floyd, Snooze, and Ernie all put faces to the typical prison population.
When Andy reaches out to Red as his first friend he inherits this group, mentors them, influencing them with his library, tax evasion business and hope. A well read man Andy also befriends the library cart pusher, Brooks Hatlen, whose sentence is close to being paroled. We follow this character for Red because they share a lifer gene that could mean they share the same fate. In the course of his library building Andy teaches Tommy Williams, a good kid who, with a leg up, could change his life for the better. As a witness to a murder confession, Tommy is fate righting itself if only forces in the world would allow it. It’s not to be due to the story’s antagonists, the power on the other side of the bars, head guard, Captain Hadley and Warden Norton. Through this balance of relationships the audience is convinced Andy is right to escape the prison, Red’s redemption is proof of that. Each and every character was a necessary face that brought the prison to life and informed us of Andy’s world.
A Twisting World
In The Twilight Saga the supernatural world Bella is exposed to is built slowly as she becomes aware of it herself. We start with the regular humans, her mother, Renée, and her new husband Phil, Charlie Swan, her father, and the kids she goes to school with: Tyler, Eric, Mike, Jessica and Angela. This is our world. There are hints of the supernatural as we learn she already has connections within the Quileute Indian tribe and unknown to her the werewolves through her father’s best friend Billy Black and his son, Jacob. When Edward saves her in a freak car accident her intrigue about his methods reveals to her he’s a vampire with a connection himself to the Quileute werewolves. Even though nothing happens between the vampires and werewolves at first, in fact Bella doesn’t even learn of the wolves until the second book, we feel them waiting in the background. As Bella and Edward grow closer he desires her to meet his family, the group of vampires he lives and moves with. The Cullens, Rosalie and Emmet, Jasper and Alice and Dr. Carlisle and Esme, are split about Bella herself but are united in supporting whatever Edward wants of them. By defending her friendship with Jacob it doesn’t take much for her to learn of the Quileute werewolves later on.
As this is a love story it very much resembles an us against the world situation, especially since, no matter what happens, Bella and Edward are always committed to each other. The secondary characters in the series are utilized very well flipping and twisting their roles between allies, neutrals and antagonists in an ever shifting tapestry of angst. As we progress in our journey with Bella she overcomes these different antagonists: in Twilight, a small coven of vampires led by James, in New Moon she overcomes Jacob’s werewolf pack as well as the Volturi, in Eclipse Victoria returns with an army of new vampires, too many to name and in Breaking Dawn she must overcome the Volturi once and for all. Upon defeating all opposition to her and Edward, Bella can live happier ever after with her family which is all the audience ever wanted. If there existed a hidden supernatural world, populated with vampires and werewolves, the characters in the Twilight Saga are who I’d want to meet.
A Contrasted World
In Mad Men Don Draper is at the epicenter of his 60′s advertising agency world. His co-workers and family swirl around him, their actions and arcs informing us about Don as they interact and conflict. There are also a slew of others who come in and out of his orbit, some under their own power and some not, but all add to the world as much as the man. Betty is an archetypal dissatisfied house wife of the time who gave up an education and career for her husband only to find out he cheats on her, moving on is just as unsatisfactory though. Megan, his second wife, is freer and easier than his first, she also demands to be taken seriously and to forge her own choices while also expecting him to support and help her. Peggy is a career women who is ready and willing to put her work ahead of love and will sacrifice seduction to fight for her place among the men. Joan is in fact in possession of a sound mind but no one can see past her exterior and so she must get by on her arts. They contrast each other as they represent the differing perspectives of women of the time. Sally is quite a fascinating perspective as she represents the younger generation throwing off their parents mores and actually seems the most happy in the doing.
In contrast to the strong but individual women, the men are fleshed out by other lesser male roles, simply to give them more weight in the male dominated world. At the core though are strong older and younger generation pairs. Roger cares little for work, he’s neither unhappy nor content, but spends his time pursuing his vices. Lane maintains a veneer that all is well in his traditional world but in the end can’t hack it in a changing one. Pete is an ambitious young man who dominates at work so imagines he’s dissatisfied due to his constricting home life. Ken is perfectly happy with his marriage but while he would rather be creative is realistic enough to know a regular job is a must. Ginsberg also bears mentioning as he is a point of motivation for Don, a rival if you will that galvanizes him to want to do more. Each character is not only testing various Don Draper ideologies from their own perspectives but embodies a group from the time period. As I stand at the center of Don’s world I marvel at the connection I feel to the 60′s and the advertising world.
I wanna be popular too you say…and you can be. Invest them in the world. In real life, we have a countless number of people we can come into contact with and which can affect our lives. As a writer, I’m well aware each character added to a story is a slew of relationships that must be developed and balanced. As a consequence, a large cast is exponentially more difficult to write and not come off shallow. If carried off well though, the secondary characters add tremendously to the popularity of a work. As audiences have become more sophisticated with their endless feed to the world more is asked of writers to make them (the audience) believe in a protagonist’s reality. A bunch of extra details that add little to the human arcs aren’t needed, in the end relationships make the world a real place.
As a writer, take the fifth step in your own work to engage the audience: invest them in the world. Continue reading how, with these 7 steps to engaging the audience, any work can be popular too.