Given the discussions I’ve had about the possible twist with the ending of How I Met Your Mother, I realized a simple lesson about characterization that I wish I would have picked up on a long time ago. Even if I’m wrong about what happens in the finale, I’ll have still learned this lesson, which I’m going to share with you now.
The overall plot, especially in the final season, is the title of the show. While that’s an important factor, we can’t get there without the subplots, especially the story that each character brings with them.
Most people would say Ted’s story is about finding love, but I think that’s backwards. If his story were about finding love, he wouldn’t have been the last member of the group to get there. Ted’s story isn’t about finding love, it’s about figuring out how to go on once you’ve lost love.
Barney is the most popular, but he’s far from a single note character. He might come off as a lying womanizer, but he becomes more loyal an honest with those he cares about. You could say his story is a man trying to constantly improve himself, no matter what the cost.
Lily is all about juggling family with ambition, especially creative ambition. Every major choice she’s had to make has touched on that theme. Marshall, made in compliment with Lily, is all about improving the world, if only for his friends and family.
Robin’s conflict is often internal. She’s trying to prove herself, usually for someone else’s approval. It could be society, it could be Ted or Barney, but it’s really her father. Robin’s real story comes from her slow realization that she can do what she wants and doesn’t have to be chained down by society.
The Mother has actually been trying to find her place in the world since her boyfriend died years ago. No matter how many smiles or adventures she might have, grief is always hovering around her. Her story is a question: How do you cope with death? It’s a fundamental question we all end up asking to some degree.
I won’t share how I think the show is going to end, but I will share this:
Every character has a story, something that is intrinsically theirs, no matter who is around them. Bringing together characters that have intersecting and sometimes opposing stories, will make the overall plot that much stronger.