I remember once asking my writer’s group what they felt made a great book. I wondered myself; considering a book is made of many parts. Plot, conflict, theme, character, resolution, a writer’s Voice, scenes, chapters, and everything in between.
The consensus was character. For fiction this is certainly true. A good story tells the story of a character you follow along with their trials and tribulations; a character you can root for, to care about, to be involved with they appear three dimensional.
I suppose this is why people frown on the ‘Mary Sue’ type story, where the author writes herself (or him in the case of a Mary Stu) into a story. They are the author’s fantasy fulfilled through romance, or other genres. Such characters are often unrealistic, being ‘too good to be true’.
I think a great character includes;
- Flaws. Often these flaws hold the character back from their goals becoming the inner conflict of the story. Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes offered him courage when he needed to save himself from a snake pit. We rooted for him, and he overcame his fear.
- Realistic looks. Beauty is subjective. Characters that are drop-dead gorgeous don’t offer the same struggles as us plain folk. Beauty can also come from inside, shining through with charisma or a good heart. Be careful writing ‘beautiful’ characters. Let them be relatable to your readers.
- They rise above things. Great characters are heroes. They might not start out as a hero, but they do the right thing, or try to. Even an anti-hero offers the reader something of humanity, or reasons to their motivations.
- They are unique. Many writers may find they are writing the same character but giving new names, places, and changing a few elements about them. Overall, however, each character should be unique as a real person.
What do you think? What makes a great character? What are your favorite characters? What made them stand out? Post in comments.
Prompt: Use the picture below to create a character. Jot down a bio that includes background, the flaws and admirable qualities, and give them some conflicts they need to face and overcome.