Sunday’s premiere of the HBO series Westworld was met with great interest in our household, in no small part because family members had contributed work to the set. Throughout the first episode of HBO’s nod to Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, I found myself noticing how the narrative playing out on my screen foreshadowed one of Crichton’s later works, Jurassic Park.
At their core, both stories are different takes on the same theme. Humans create a theme park full of “other” beings to exploit for their own entertainment, which eventually become impossible to control. Resolving the immediate conflict requires the human characters to confront the very nature of their reality.
As writers, that is our mission: to help our readers explore what it means to be real, to be conscious, to be human. Everything we write, we write from an inevitably human perspective. Our characters remain human characters–yes, even the vampires, droids, aliens and animals–because we ourselves are human. The characters we develop, the desires we give them, and the ways we allow them to behave are all linked to a human understanding of our world and other worlds. Our (and their) essential humanity is our joy and our ultimate limitation.
We cannot write compelling, believable characters without humanizing them. We can use many methods to get there, but get there we must, or we lose our readers completely. Human characters have instinctual drives (food, sex, survival), spiritual consciousness, intelligence, morals, ethics. They exist within their own comfortable reality, one which few dare challenge. They mirror human strengths and weaknesses: protagonists who persevere through challenges, anti-heroes who pinpoint society’s flaws, villains who showcase the depths of our own depravity and greed.
Our characters have one job: to help us see ourselves. The moment we forget that is the moment we fail.