Margot Kinberg had a nice post yesterday on character traits that are off-putting to readers.
She made a good point—as a reader, I’ll give up on a book that has characters that I can’t connect with or admire. Here are the traits that Margot listed for unlikeable characters:
Characters With No Redeeming Qualities
Characters Who Aren’t Authentic
Characters Who are “Flat” or Stereotyped
Margot got me thinking about traits that I do enjoy reading and writing. If I were to make a “help wanted” poster for characters, these are the types of people I’d be looking to employ:
They’re Everyman—but braver, nicer, and more pleasant to be around than we are.
They’re growing…either in skills or in knowledge or in personality.
They overcome the odds.
They have some sense of humor (without being silly).
They’re a major part of the book’s action. They cause things to happen. They don’t sit on the sidelines.
They’re decisive and not wishy-washy.
They’re intelligent…or, if they’re not that intelligent (Forrest Gump) then they’re incredibly likeable and good-hearted.
They’re flawed. There’s nothing more unlikeable than reading about a character who is perfect.
They’re not too flawed. Or, if they’re totally unlikeable, (Ebenezer Scrooge) then they’re at least dynamic enough to experience a radical change of heart.
What’s on your “help wanted” list for characters?