Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wanted: Strong, Believable Characters

Wind in the WillowsMargot 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 problem-solvers.

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?