#100 - Save This Character!

| Friday, May 21, 2010
Today's Tune: Gives You Hell

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Happy 100th post to me! I feel a bizarre mix of pride and geekiness that I have posted 100 entries in this blog so far. Hopefully there are many more to come!

For my 100th entry, I thought I'd turn one of my regular segments on its head. Instead of a Kill This Character! entry, I'll be doing a special Save This Character! post. JOOOOOOOYYY!

What makes a quality, lovable, close-to-the-heart character? That's the $1,000 question, isn't it? If only there were some formula we could all follow that would guarantee us a protagonist that everyone in the world would want to be best friends with. Alas, there is no such formula, but there are a number of options you can draw on to greatly improve your character's anti-hateability. Yes, I just made up that word.

Because it's multitudes more difficult to create a beloved character, I'll be setting this post up as a more generalized list of character traits to shoot for, rather than giving specific character "cliches" like I do with Kill This Character. After all...

1.) Save The Characters! who break the mold. The ones who take a cliche, punch it in the face, and yell "YOU DON'T CONTROL ME!" Those precious, brilliant beings who may display comfortable and "safe" characteristics, but somehow twist their existence into something new and fresh.

2.) Save The Characters! who are flawed, but not broken beyond repair. They're flawed, sometimes deeply flawed, but they have the inner strength and wisdom to grow into a better person because of those flaws.

3.) Save The Characters! who have motivation and goals outside of external factors. Those who can define themselves. It may take them a little bit of pushing to get to that point, but they eventually get there. They're not propelled by everything and everyone around them - they control the action of the story, the action doesn't control them. Even at their most powerless, they display a glimmer of personal strength.

4.) Save The Characters! who display emotional turmoil, but not unrepentant wallowing. Every novel contains stakes and conflict. It's very likely the conflict will illicit gut-wrenching emotion from a character, and that character will react. Violently, explosively, shamefully, painfully. But a good character builds a bridge and gets over it eventually, because no one likes a whiner.

5.) Save The Characters! who are NOT universally beloved by everyone in their universe. No one is blindly adored by everyone. Sometimes people don't like a person just because they're too loud. Too quiet. The new kid. The know-it-all. More talented. Less talented. Too nice. No reason at all. And likewise, we all have people who get under our skin, for whatever reason. Nobody likes everyone. Realistic characters reflect this. They have people who don't think they're awesome, and they have people they'd rather not be around.

6.) Save The Characters! who think about people other than themselves. More often than just in passing, a la "Oh gosh, my dad would be so disappointed in me if I did this. Oh well! Doing it anyway!" This is tricky. Sometimes we think we're showing that a character Really Loves Someone, while the character actually comes off as fretting about how THEY are going to live without Someone. What will CHARACTER do without them? How will CHARACTER ever be whole again? CHARACTER'S life is totally meaningless if Someone isn't in it. Taken to such an extreme, this is selfish. And whiny and irritating.

7.) Save The Characters! who display growth. People are constantly malleable. Every day, our experiences change us. If we refuse those changes, we don't grow. We remain stagnant. Boring. Making the same mistakes over and over again, all because we won't move forward. Do not sentence your character to this prison.

8.) Save The Characters! who have quirks. They love bad B-movies. They play Sudoku every chance they get. They rub their arms up and down even when they're not cold. They used words like "precipitation" in the third grade. Real people are unique - their hobbies, likes, dislikes, habits and tweaks make them that way. Good characters are as three dimensional as possible, and believable quirks help them leap off the page.

9.) Save The Characters! who have reasons for their actions. They don't run into danger for a weak reason, or make decisions that don't make sense based on their personality. Every choice they make can be traced back to their personal psychology. Even if their reason isn't known to them at the time (boy misdirects anger with his father at a teacher, for example), they eventually "get it" and learn from it.

10.) Save The Characters! who fail, and then try again. Never give up, never surrender. Good characters WILL fail - it's necessary to hurt our darlings. But then they get up and keep on keepin' on.

What say you, readers? What characters would you save?


{ Iapetus999 } at: May 21, 2010 at 8:27 AM said...

Those are all good things. The problem is always making a character relateable.

{ Shannon O'Donnell } at: May 21, 2010 at 9:33 AM said...

Great post! I agree with all ten that you listed. :-)

{ Shelley Sly } at: May 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM said...

You make some excellent points! I love all those traits in a great character!

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