The characters you care about will have heartfelt experiences that will move you to tears. Or they will surprise you in ways you never could have imagined. Or they will disappoint you by not living up to your expectations. Or they will repulse you because the characters you care about will act badly, or will have inappropriate thoughts about the girl next door, or about murder, or about gardening equipment, or about murdering the girl next door with gardening equipment. Or (at a minimum) the characters you care about will let you down with their apathy, with their heart-sapping failure to exude even a modicum of compassion toward the ostensibly compassion-worthy, such as old ladies on walkers, or three-legged cats, or the less attractive, or the unfashionably dressed, or the disaster-ravaged, white-flag-waving victims of God’s random wrath off in some distant, unfathomable, unpronounceable land. The characters you care about will speak in clipped, laconic bursts (“Yessir”, “Nossir”, “Just bring me the usual, hon”) or will grate with perkiness, with mindless, unfounded optimism, or will seethe inwardly while saying nothing, or will yearn tediously for the simpler days of yore, or will lie smarmily to sell you a used car or a junk bond or a timeshare or a fake or stolen Rolex. Or they will convince themselves that they are the reincarnation of the Sun God, Ra, or will reconcile with their deadbeat father after 25 years of savings-draining therapy, or will build a birdhouse so astoundingly beautiful that no self-respecting bird will actually consent to live in it, for fear of tainting such a sublimely transcendent work of Art. The characters you care about will be teenaged girls practicing their kisses in the mirror, or teenaged boys with magical powers who, upon realizing that girls like to practice kissing mirrors, transform themselves into the biggest, shiniest mirrors the world has ever seen. The characters you care about will have freckles in the pattern of the Andromeda constellation, fat hawklike noses that jut out like the pictures in a children’s pop-up book, or green, spiky Mohawks that split their skulls in two. Or they will strut high-heeled down the boulevards carrying polka-dotted purses and tiny purse-sized dogs outfitted obscenely in polka-dotted doggie sweaters, or will wear clown makeup and ride around in motorcycles with sidecars decked out in great cloudbursts of neon-orange flame. The characters you care about will come from the classics of literature, from old movies, from sea shanties or bubblegum pop, from Noh theater, Theater of the Absurd or Theater of the Round, from off-off or off-off-off Broadway, from sci-fi, romantic comedy, or rock opera, from infomercials or cartoons or community access channels, or will be loosely based on actual people you might really know, possibly residing in or around the posher suburbs of Baltimore. The creation of the characters you care about is a difficult and largely unrewarding business: experts in care-aboutable-character-creation spend decades training in snowy secluded Alpine cabins accessible only by helicopter, alchemically mixing and matching, studying the storied characters of the past and present and envisioning the state-of-the-art characters of the future. Yet in over 98.34% of all cases, the characters created even under such optimal conditions fail to induce the most basic level of careaboutablity required for further development by the International Character Development Association (ICDA), and thus must by regulation be burned in huge piles to avoid contaminating other, potentially care-aboutable characters with the stink of Flatness, Implausibility or Caricature.
The characters you care about will: get the girl, lose the girl, become a girl, change their fortunes, change their password, change their brand of antiperspirant, invent excuses, second guess, second guess their second-guesses, make and lose a fortune, resort to comb-overs, make nominal stabs at moustaches, hang up somewhat guiltily on the Police Department when they call asking for contributions to the Annual Fund, take their kids fishing just like their dads took them and their dad’s dads before that, give the wrong answer to a question that “has no right or wrong answers”, drink red wine with fish, wear black in summer, sport sneakers with slacks, mispell the word “misspell”, consult a guru whose questionable wisdom costs $99.99 a month (plus additional processing and handling fees), make and can their own apricot jam, insist that you call them “the Colonel”, listen with interest, borrow money with interest, do one hundred pushups, wear a push-up bra, get pushed around, push back, push the envelope, push on a door that says pull, pull a fast one, pull off a seemingly unpulloffable feat, pull off the side of the road, go off-roading, go off-message, kill the messenger, kill a bear with their bare hands, grin and bear it, be the bearer of bad news, bare their bodies, bare their souls, sell their souls, sell their bodies, sell out to the system, game the system, play the blame game, assign blame where it is not warranted, become victims of warrantless wiretapping, warrant further investigation, secretly still enjoy the eighties glam-rock band Warrant, and come with a money-back warrantee, if not completely satisfied.
The characters you care about will learn from their mistakes, though what they may well learn is how to make more mistakes. Or their mistakes will come back to haunt them, or will turn out not to be mistakes at all per se, but part of a carefully planned and plotted strategy to appear sloppy, incautious, and mistake-prone, so that others might underestimate them, so that they can sneak in for the kill, so to speak. Or they will be mistaken for someone else, someone famous or infamous, and as a result may have to serve prison time for a crime they didn’t commit. In prison, the characters you care about will become more reflective, more self-aware, and eventually will have an epiphany that will change them forever, in ways they hadn’t anticipated. Or they will hear the word epiphany and get a blank look on their face, but it will sound bad to them, somehow, that word—possibly even contagious—so they’ll head off to the doctor to get it checked out, and the doctor will correct their misapprehension, but add that blood work has revealed that they actually do have, in fact, a real, existing, non-epiphanic condition requiring immediate treatment. Or the doctor will turn out to be a secret Joycean scholar who well knows not just the meaning of the word epiphany but understands the word’s origins in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and frankly, you’ll be tempted to jettison the characters you care about altogether in favor of this wise, worldly, and strangely compelling Joyce-quoting, argyle-sweater-vest-wearing doctor and scratch golfer (with a Mercedes, no less!). Or you’ll realize that the doctor is nothing but a smug, rich, arrogant prick who is also, incidentally, facing a host of malpractice suits, and you’ll stick with the characters you care about, thank you, the ones who brought you to the dance in the first place—as imperfect, incurious, and workaday ordinary as they may seem.
The characters you care about will die in the following ways: consumption, cancer, hunger, boredom, laughter, embarrassment, shock, heat stroke, heart attack, shark attack, bee sting, suicide, regicide, pesticides, road rage, Russian roulette, rebel uprising, robot uprising, death by hanging, death by firing squad, death by chocolate. Or they will live on eternally in the hearts and minds of future generations, or they will be forgotten before they’re even gone, or they will become zombies who dine on human flesh and in some cases open an upscale restaurant for other zombies that serves human flesh, or will become Zagat or Michelin-certified zombie restaurant critics (“The brains were expertly prepared in a delicate plum sauce and well-paired with a wonderful South Australian Shiraz…”), or they will fulfill the fabled promise of Everlasting Life that explorers have been searching for and scientists have been teasing us with for eons and will become, in their immortality, ultimately and terminally bored and lazy and afraid to take chances or have adventures or even points of view, and certainly not love affairs or yearnings or longings or even stirrings and thus will morph into the kind of dull, dreamless, thumb-twiddling flatlining characters you no longer feel obligated to give even the slightest damn about, by which time hopefully you’ve moved on to an entirely new slate of more interesting, alive and hot-blooded characters, or you’ve gone the other way entirely and become misanthropic and now avoid characters like the plague, or you now doubt that characters were really ever worth caring about and have better things to spend your time on, like those weeds shooting up in the garden that are spreading out of control and those don’t count as characters, do they, even though they’re living and I guess technically breathing and probably have a heart and a soul or whatever the weedy equivalent of heart and soul are. Or at least the thorny issue of whether weeds have a heart and soul is likely (or at least possibly) one that some character you might yet be convinced to care about is working on, or thinking about, or smoking a cigarette or sipping a Scotch and pensively fingering his wispy white goatee while pretending to ponder, in the potentially care-aboutable here and now.