Great Characters

photo credit: Neil. Moralee via photopin cc

photo credit: Neil. Moralee via photopin cc

I’ve started four books in the last couple of days, and after one chapter, sometimes less than a chapter, I’ve decided not to read them. I’ve been analyzing why they were totally not for me, and one of the big things was something didn’t make sense. I wasn’t convinced why the plot was going in the direction it was, it seemed contrived, and I cannot stand over-contrived stories, so I was out. But the main reason was character. I didn’t believe them. People behaving in ways that seemed completely off, all to further the plot. So, knowing I wrote a list of what I thought made a great character some time ago, I dug around and found it, and here it is:

1) Strength – Your characters cannot be wet noodles. They must have strong personalities and strong feelings about certain things.

2) Weakness – Nothing is worse than a perfect character. To err is human, and the only way the reader is going to identify with your character is by seeing they are just like everyone else. Flawed but lovable.

3) Communication – Your character has to be able to interact with other characters in a believable way and in such a way that reveals their characteristics to the reader. Showing instead of telling.

4) Backstory – Your character’s backstory needs to be compelling and relevant. The best characters have a backstory that enhances their appeal by revealing a further depth to their character, or showing the reader why they are flawed or have made the decisions they have. And by backstory, I mean carefully dolled out, interesting strip-tease like reveals of backstory. Not a huge big dump of backstory somewhere near the beginning (one of the other reasons I stop reading a book).

5) Internalization – When a character internalizes their feelings or thoughts, this should further layer the character, endear or alienated the reader more (depending on whether we’re talking villian or a hero) and advance the story.

6) Action – By your actions you shall be known. This is as true for fictional characters. How they act, when they act and why they act impact on the perception of them by the reader. It also makes the plot. Make sure the way a character acts is in character (or the plot will look contrived).

7) Reaction – Reaction is different to action. With action, your character is the protagonist, they create a dynamic by chosing to do something. Reaction is their response to the dynamic created by someone else. Again, to your character’s character be true.

Whew, that was quite tough. I’d love to hear who disagrees with me, or whether you’ve got another element to add to my list. I love reading great characters. For all the readers here, what trait do you most like in a fictional character?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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3 Responses to Great Characters

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Great list! I have two things. Strength of character, which you mention, is very important. It’s also important that the character have compassion. Though now I’m thinking a story about a character who doesn’t have compassion and learns it along the way would be interesting. Isn’t that kind of like Scarlett O’Hara?

  2. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I love the list. For me, it’s all about the characters. I’ll believe anything in a story if the author can make me believe in the character – but without that believable connection – so not!

    And like you, I’ve tossed several books recently 🙁
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Sian’s Solution – now live!

  3. Amy Atwell says:

    Great list, Michelle. I find I’m drawn to characters who do noble deeds or champion causes. I put it down to a sense of ‘responsibility.’ I love the strength it takes to own up and be responsible.
    Amy Atwell`s last blog was …Favorite Christmas Stories

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