the most influential people

emma stone, ascending the stage to accept her inevitable best actress oscar: oh wow thank you so much for this award. here’s to the ones who dream or some shit

me:
Amy Lou Adams (born August 20, 1974) is an American actress and singer. She was named one of 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2014 and is among the highest-paid actresses in the world.[1] She has won two Golden Globe Awards and has been nominated for five Academy Awards, and six BAFTA Awards.

Adams began her career on stage performing in dinner theater and went on to make her feature film debut in Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999). After moving to Los Angeles, she made several appearances on television and in B-movies, before starring in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 biopic Catch Me If You Can. Adams’s breakthrough role came in the 2005 independent film Junebug, in which her portrayal of a young pregnant woman earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination. In 2007, she starred as a princess in the commercially successful Disney musical film Enchanted.

Adams received three more Oscar nominations for her supporting roles in Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and The Master (2012). She played reporter Lois Lane in the 2013 superhero film Man of Steel and a troubled con artist in David O. Russell’s film American Hustle; for the latter, she won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She won a second consecutive Golden Globe Award for portraying artist Margaret Keane in the comedy-drama Big Eyes (2014). In 2016, Adams reprised the role of Lois in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and garnered acclaim for her performances in the science-fiction film Arrival and the crime thriller Nocturnal Animals.

The 5 Elements of a LIKABLE Main Character

“I don’t like your main character. He’s kind of obnoxious.” my beta reader laughingly told me, after reading the first chapter of my novel.

On the surface, I looked like this: 

Inside, I looked like this: 

Aloud, I said “Oh, well, he’s kind of hard to understand. He changes by the end.”

Inside, I screamed “How could you not like him?! Do you have a heart?! Is there a void where your soul should be?! Are you actually a Dementor that’s really good at makeup? Well, I guess this is what the Dementors are doing after getting kicked out of Azkaban!”

Outside: “But I really enjoyed it!” *Hugs between broken writer and Dementor in disguise* “Thank you for reading!" 

But you know what? That person that might be a soul-sucking cloaked demon creature? They were right. The character was unlikable, or more accurately, there was no reason to cheer him on. There was nothing to make the reader connect with him, relate to him, transfer themselves into his story, feel affection towards him. 

And if the reader doesn’t connect with the character through empathy? Nothing else in the story can work. Everything relies on this one fictional person. The basic definition of story is "A flawed hero with a goal overcoming obstacles to reach that goal, and how that journey changes them.” So without character, you don’t have story. Without empathy from the reader, you don’t even have character. 

So what is empathy when it comes to characters? 

It’s the process of a reader transferring their own lives onto the character. When this happens, the character’s goal and inner desires, values and weaknesses, everything about them, become proxies for our own. We learn of a shared piece of human nature between us, something we have in common on a significant inner level, and suddenly we want to see this character succeed. Because now, they are us – and we want to see ourselves succeed in real life. We feel what they feel, we experience what they experience.  

The best way to sum up character empathy in my opinion, is this quote from C.S.Lewis: “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another ‘Really? You too? I thought I was the only one!’”

That’s empathy. 

Which doesn’t mean the character has to be an angelic little cherub …

There are characters that operate in a moral gray area, there are characters that are downright awful, there are characters that shouldn’t be lovable …but we love them. So this is NOT saying that a main character has to be a perfect angel that rescues baby squirrels when they’re not busy volunteering at the local soup kitchen, it just means there’s something WORTHWHILE in the character that persuades the reader to stick around. We need a reason to relate with that at-first-glance unlikable character. Just as we have flawed people in our own lives who we can forgive and love.

A good quote for this one would be this, by G.K.Chesterton: “That’s the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”

So how does a writer accomplish a good empathetic connection?

Luckily for us, establishing this only takes a little planning in the beginning of the story. Certain elements foster empathy, elements which you can give to your character and display in the story. Making sure to incorporate a few of these will ensure that first connection between reader and character. A connection which you, the author, will then be able to grow. It’s this tiny first note of shared humanity which deepens into those important links we hold with characters. We’re living people, they’re imagined and comprised of words on a page; yet these people can be friends to us, family, mentors, role models, and become some of the most influential people in our lives. 

And how does that begin? Evoking empathy. 

And how do you evoke empathy? Well here are the characteristics that human beings instinctively identify with and admire … 

– Courage (This is the one EVERY main character should possess. Gumption to pursue what they want separates main from background characters.)

– Humor (Wit charms us without fail.)

– Goal-Obsessed 

– Hard-working  

– Noble motivations

– Loving

– Loved by others

– Kind 

– Treated unfairly

– In imminent danger, physically

– In imminent danger, emotionally

– In a sorrowful situation

– Smart/Expert at something

– Suffering from psychological weakness  

– Haunted by something in their past

– Dissatisfied with current state of their life

– Lacking something like love, friendship, belonging, family, safety, freedom, etc

It’s a good plan to give your main character at least FIVE of these empathetic little “virtues.”

If this sounds like a resume, that’s kind of what it is. “Dear Potential Reader, I’m applying for the job of Main Character of this book series. I aspire to consume your every waking thought and drastically change your life, for better and worse.” It’s a diagram of the worthwhile traits of the hero, the characteristics that win us over, which promise the reader “If you follow my story, knowing me – and experiencing the story through me – will be well worth your time.”

These traits will be displayed in the set-up of the story, the first ten pages or so. But the story CANNOT stop to let the character exhibit these winning behaviors; the story must KEEP PROGRESSING, every empathetic element must be shown with a story reason for existing within a scene. Like exposition, empathy needs to be added in subtly, as the story motors onward, slipping into the reader’s knowledge without them noticing. If it’s a scene created for the express purpose of convincing the reader “This character is lovable! Love them! I said love them!” then it will be glaringly obvious and the reader will feel the exact opposite. (They’ll also feel that way about the author, incidentally.)

Now! How does this work? 

Harry Potter: 

Harry is the poster child for being treated unfairly. Yet in the face of the abusive treatment of his childhood, Harry is courageous. He does not succumb to the Dursley’s relentless campaign to stamp the magic out of him, and become a proper Dursley; though this would’ve won their approval, put him in their good graces, and made his life exponentially easier – but he didn’t do it. He knew they were wrong, knew what was right, and refused to become like them. So heck yes Sorting Hat, there is “plenty of courage, I see”. He was loved by his parents, by the three that dropped him off at his Aunt and Uncle’s, and by the majority of the Wizarding World. He’s also snarky, loving, and in constant danger. 

Judy Hopps: 

Every reason why we care about Judy is established in the first few scenes. She’s courageous. She’s funny. She’s loved by her parents. She’s motivated by noble values. Definitely goal oriented, hard working, and smart. She’s also in imminent danger, and being treated unfairly.

If we took out the pieces of the story meant to evoke our empathy, what would happen? 

Nobody would care. Judy Hopps would have been an annoying, smug, and consumed by ruthless ambition. Harry Potter would have ceased to exist because everything about him is empathetic. 

Establishing these early allows us to begin the process of temporarily transferring our lives into a story. Or in the case of some life-changing stories, not temporarily transferring, but letting them become part of our souls forever. 

Yup, having your story connect with a reader forever starts with just a little empathy. Pretty useful.

Oh, and speaking of souls, give me mine back, Dementor reader. I learned how to make people like my characters. Now you’re out of the Azkaban job and the beta reading job. 

We’re celebrating another LGBTQ influencer for #BlackHistoryMonth!

Laverne Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her iconic role as our favorite hairdresser with a troubled past on Orange is the New Black. Since her big break on Netflix, she has been regarded as one of the most influential people in the trans community, and continues to fight for gender equality. We love you, Laverne!

Gavin is the cherubic face of a reductive, dirty debate about trans people’s right to exist in public spaces without hostility, harassment and violence. His case, which remains ongoing in Virginia, has implications that extend far beyond bathrooms. It’s about a greater sense of belonging for us all—at school, at home and in our neighborhoods and places of work and worship. So many are made to feel as if they should hide, pretend or perish. Gavin’s refusal to be treated unjustly is an enduring reminder that we will not be stalled.

ICYMI: Transgender teenager Gavin Grimm is on this year’s TIME 100 list of the most influential people. Read Janet Mock’s full statement on the impact he’s made. 

NEU NEU is a black-produced publication, teaming up with some of fashion’s most influential people, to launch Issue #zero this spring!

If you’re a Black artist/designer/photographer/etc. looking to be involved in a huge new platform, send submissions (editorials, pitches, artwork, stories, etc.) to: alexis@neuneumedia.com


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