It’s too much to ask us to separately identify and care about an endless stream of new characters. Instead, just ask the audience to care about your hero, that’s it, then introduce all the other characters according to your hero’s point of view. Even if we’re cutting away to a villain that your hero isn’t aware of yet, they should still be defined by their relationship to your hero: usually as the negation of their philosophy.
As the hero meets each new character, there are certain predefined slots the audience will want to set them into:
- This person is nice to the hero, I like them
- This person is mean to the hero, I don’t like them.
- This person seems too nice to the hero, I distrust them
- This person is kind of mean to the hero so far, but I suspect that they’re really good deep down.
- This cryptic person is someone the hero desires, I hope that they gratify the hero’s desire.
Once you adopt this system, writing actually becomes much easier. You don’t have to make the audience care about every person, place and thing individually. The audience only cares about one thing: seeing the hero solve their problem. Since everything else in the movie is defined in relationship to that problem, the audience will naturally come to care about each of these things, too, simply by caring about that one thing.
Harry Potter and Tony Soprano were the stars of very different sagas but they were introduced in similar ways. Both sagas quickly became wildly complex, with lots of fully-rounded characters and satisfying subplots. But in each, every other character was defined at first by our hero’s feelings about them. (Only later would we come to disagree with his feelings about some of them). In each case, the sub-stories come alive for us only after they flow out of the hero’s story. He’s not just one of many characters getting thrown at us, he’s our point-of-view.