I love Gilmore Girls with all my heart. Last summer, I binged it to its entirety, staying up late into the night watching episode after episode, completely absorbed in Rory and Lorelai's life. The show gave me so much comfort during my first summer at home from college.
While watching the show, I felt that I learned a lot about forming relatable characters and developing them throughout long periods. With the few projects I've touched since finishing the show, I have seen drastic changes in the way I write my characters. And I believe, wholeheartedly, that's it's because of Gilmore Girls.
If you haven't watched Gilmore Girls, it is probably obvious, but I suggest you give it a go. It is honestly such a heart-warming show, packed full of drama, and is the perfect way to encourage you to drink even more coffee! The show centers a mother-daughter relationship and follows them along their path through dating, school, work, and general life issues. Lorelai, a single mother who ran away from home at a young age, raises Rory, practically by herself, in the small town of StarsHollow, and together they navigate their way around relatable conflicts that are engaging, yet comforting. The whole show has such a cozy aesthetic about it.
There are some things I both liked and disliked about the character development, and in today's post, I'm here to share both sides with you--how to form well-rounded, relatable characters, and how NOT TO form well-rounded relatable characters. These are tips all derived from lessons I've learned from Gilmore Girls (and yes, I will be briefly discussing the horrendous revival). I will avoid spoilers to the best of my ability, using only elements from the plot and general character knowledge to defend my points!
Grab a cozy drink (I have hot chocolate), settle down, and let's dive right in!
How to form well-rounded, relatable characters
1. Give them more than one conflict/focus at a time
In Gilmore Girls, both Rory and Lorelai have many conflicts they are going through at once. Not only do they have boy problems, but problems at school/work, with friends, and are each going through their own, interpersonal struggles. For example, in the first episode, Pilot, we can see that Lorelai is wanting to start her own inn, while also trying to figure out how to get Rory into boarding school, while also dealing with the fact that she must face her parents again, after many years.
When characters are battling more than one problem at a time, it makes them more relatable and helps them grow in many areas of their life, all at once. Not only do we see Lorelai make decisions as a mother, and in her work life, but we also see her grow as a daughter.
Very rarely are we only focused on one issue at hand in real life. For example, at the moment I have many focuses, such as trying to find a direction with my blog, searching for a fourth roommate, growing my relationship with my boyfriend, working to find mindfulness in each day, and so much more. I'm human--we always have more than one issue or focus at hand, whether internal, external, or interpersonal.
Give your characters more than one focus. Give them three--three is a good number. Then, have them switch from each focus because at specific moments, some are more important than others. This may also speed up your novel.
An example of three conflicts could be the main conflict, a side romance, and unresolved trauma.
2. Give each character a fear/stressor, and make sure it appears consistently
For Lorelai, her consistent stressor is her relationship with her parents and being independent. For Rory, hers is not getting into Harvard, or not being good enough. At times, they "overcome" these fears, but they always appear again in later episodes, as its relatable--even if people find solutions to their stressors, they are still buried in the subconscious and will arise again. For example, if someone goes through trauma, and they heal through that trauma, their experience will (almost always) still remain prominent, as it is brought up in conversation, or they may be uncomfortable in certain situations.
All throughout the show, Lorelai experiences tension with her family in many different situations, yet the fear and worry behind it is all the same. Rory, too, will experience doubts and fear of unsuccess all through the show.
Characters fall flat when they go through something, and heal through it fast, learning nothing. Or, if they experience a fear once, and never experience it again.
Having a consistent fear in your character's life will also help you to make decisions for them, or understand how they may behave when around certain people or in situations. If you had family issues, would you want to be around them? You may act normal and civil, but that tension will be there.
3. Give them a general, set-in-stone personality
It's obvious from the first few moments of the show--Lorelai never quite grew up and has a strong, rebellious personality and loves pink, and Rory is the opposite, being the mature one in the dynamic as well as a book nerd, great student, wearing neutral colors and staying to herself. The wild, silly mom, and the quiet literature girl. Got it.
The show does a good job at maintaining these personalities. In all types of situations, their personalities shine and remain prominent--the characters' voices are clear all throughout (this goes along with every other character in the show, by the way--they all have their own, rooted personalities, and it's wonderful).
Gilmore Girls also builds off of the personalities, with Rory taking her intelligence to the next step by aiming to get into Harvard and working her way passionately through school, and Lorelai undergoing issues with friends and family and even men because of her silly, un-validating way of communicating. There is clear conflict centering on their personalities, and it's genius.
Give your character a clear personality from the start, and then give them conflicts and solutions to those conflicts based on their way of communicating and thinking.
How NOT TO form well-rounded, relatable characters
1. DON'T give them an easy way out
Please, don't give your characters an easy escape route. Doing so will make the conflict seem meaningless, as the characters won't grow or learn much, and the story suddenly feels unrelatable.
In Gilmore Girls, Rory is kicked out of her apartment in a later season, and she is literally homeless. But luckily, her wealthy boyfriend at the time, who lives in a giant penthouse, offers for her to move in. While this makes clear sense, as they are dating, it was such an easy way out that Rory learned nothing from why she was kicked out in the first place. Instead, she found a quick solution and didn't try any harder to get her apartment back.
Make your character struggle a bit to find answers. Induce fear in them, make them scared, wandering around, calling everyone they know. Maybe, set them up so that they just went through a fight with their rich boyfriend, so they can't call him right now, but then they have to--learning to let go of their stubbornness and ask for help.
When you make your character struggle, they learn something. An easy way out makes them seem a little flimsy.
2. DON'T make them unlikeable
This is probably obvious. But it's easy to make your character unlikeable... probably easier than you may think.
Later in the show, Rory became unlikeable for three reasons 1) she is incredibly smart, 2) every guy is obsessed with her, 3) she has a crap ton of money. Well, now I just sound judgemental, but I can explain myself.
It's set up in the beginning that Rory is smart and loved studying, but later in the show, she becomes so unrealistically smart that literally everything becomes easy to her. She never really struggles and pretty much accomplishes anything and everything she desires (except for one time, which leads her to breakdown), which not only sets up a bad example for young people watching the show but makes her fall a bit flat.
There's only one instance when a guy doesn't like Rory. Yes, one, out of six, if I recall correctly. And these fives guys love her, not just like her. They don't always treat her the best, but they are drop-dead obsessed with her, and this also not only creates a false expectation for young viewers but makes her both annoying and free of conflict. Yes, she still has boy trouble, but regardless of her many not-so-great actions, the boys are still at her side, constantly (even when married). It's... a bit unrealistic.
And, yes... she has money. There's nothing wrong with having lots of money and using it to go shopping and buying excess amounts of Chinese food and coffee, but Rory almost flaunts it around in the later episodes, with her expensive coats and dresses, free-ticket into college (sorry--spoiler (kind of)!) and luxury trips with her boyfriend. Perfectly fine but... annoying.
The reason I keep saying annoying is not because she's annoying, exactly, but the way the show sets it all up is aggravating. It's not relatable anymore. When your characters are loved by all, well-off, and have a legit superpower, the minor conflicts don't seem like conflicts and now seem like whining, and the characters become unlikeable. You can't relate to them anymore, therefore you're just watching them live, not living through them as you should be.
That was a lot to jam-pack. Just be sure to give your characters relatable struggles, and if they do have superpowers, lots of money, and the eyes from all the boys, things not everyone can relate to, make sure to give them weaknesses and, as I said above, relatable, everyday struggles. Otherwise, they're just... annoying, and you stop caring.
Let me tell you--I stopped caring in the revival, haha!
3. DON'T make it all for nothing, leaving the characters as clueless as before
In stories, we expect the characters to learn and grow through conflicts. When they are being beaten up by conflict after conflict, undergoing all sorts of stressors, they need to learn something in the end, or else it's all for nothing, and the characters become whiney-babies (*cough, cough* like Rory in the revival *cough, cough).
I won't say much here, as I might spoil things, but there were a few times in the show when the conflicts presented in the beginning were ended loosely, or nothing was really learned or taken from it all besides drama for the viewers to watch.
Create a clear message that the character learns in the end, after overcoming the conflict. This is how you show growth, and make not only the story but the character, feel complete. Happily ever after, as they say. Even without a happy ending, give your character some sort of realization that they took away from the story.
Be sure, too, to string this realization throughout the story. For Lorelai, it could be "Family is more important than you think" and for Rory, it could be, "I don't have to accomplish so much in order to live a fulfilled life." That is if that's what they learned, in the end...
Your characters will be seen as intelligent, open-minded, and powerful when they learn from their mistakes and struggles and your readers will feel that fuzzy, yet the heart-ripping feeling of completing a story, and learning something. Your readers will feel inspired by the characters, taking away some sort of message.
Don't make it all for nothing--at least shine some light at the end. (Which the revival should've done... I won't keep bashing the revival but... just please, don't watch it. I still cry about it.)
Did you like the revival or not? Please, let me know!
I hope you liked this Gilmore Girl-themed post! If you enjoyed it and want me to write similar posts, be sure to let me know so that I can do so!
Do you enjoy Gilmore Girls? Do you agree with the tips I shared? Be sure to let me know below, or message me on Instagram!
Don't mind me... I'm going to go rewatch Gilmore Girls. Have a wonderful, peaceful night!