In the effort to always make my characters interesting and, hopefully, likable to some extent, I love analyzing my favorite characters in movies and novels as well. And with this, I don’t just mean the heros. In fact, some heros are just plain boring. No, I mean the really clever ones, the ones that stick with you, that you remember their names and their gestures, their words and their actions, and perhaps even their family life. These are characters with details – even if you don’t notice the details consciously.
Or perhaps it’s only people like me who notice the details at all. My mother does have a tendency to tell me I pay too much attention to movies. >.>
In any case, what makes a character good?
Details. In The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds holds tensions over his past drama with his father. His habit to relieve stress is apparently to carve up an old boat, which is never explained – but it doesn’t have to be. Sandra Bullock’s character’s parents died in a car accident, then she got a tattoo of doves. Well she didn’t have a family to stop her anymore, and doves are a universal sign of peace and safety. Ryan is on a first name basis with the coffee shop girl, understands and probably created all the lingo involving Sandra’s character, and has the support of at least most of his co-workers. Sandra positions her hair before she sleeps, runs a treadmill while watching nature clips, and apparently never had dial-up internet.
Complexity. That’s what the fans like. We don’t like to have to deal with it all, but the fact that it’s there, giving the characters background and not being the center of attention to take away from the main plot – that’s good detail and complexity. That’s memorable.
Wit. Cleverness also seems to resonate with people. Ryan Reynolds had it in The Proposal. If a movie has a group, one of it’s most memorable characters is the one making the witty comments and jokes – the techy, the bad boy, the goof-ball, The Weasley twins – yes they get their own category. Sherlock Holmes is nothing if not composed of the delightful stuff. A smart character – even if only in jest – is a fun character. People love fun characters.
Clarity. If we cant understand why a character is doing something – they probably shouldn’t be doing it. That isn’t to say you need to explain everything right when it happens, but if I finish the series and am left wondering ‘why?’ then there is some editing to be done. A villain, especially, always needs a good ‘why.’ Simply being a psychopath wont be enough for most readers. Everyone must have a point to their actions. Why are they trying to kill someone, take over the world, steal your boyfriend, kidnap your cat, cut down the forest, or replace your favorite brand of cookies with their own monopolized version? Why is the hero trying to put a stop to this or fix it? Why do the supporting characters even care? Everyone needs a why.
I want to feel the budding friendship, the tingling love, the burn of yearning, the sour distaste, and the hands-shaking hatred. I want it. Why? Because it makes me feel the character’s emotions, it lets me into their world, and that is just far more entertaining and easier to understand than the chaotic and bemused world I live in – even if the book is contemporary, modern, realistic, or historical. Isn’t that why anyone does anything with literature? It’s an escape, and I want it to be a good one.
I want to write a good one. I want to be the book someone turns to when they’ve had a hard day, the one they love to live in, to breathe. I want to create the characters that move and shake and bleed. I want to make a villain you love and love to hate. I want to make a hero you can relate to. I want to make that special character you think of when someone asks ‘so who’s you’re favorite character?’
That’s what I want, with every fiber of my creative, optimistic, procrastinating, pop-culture-loving, scholarly, easily-distracted-by-shiny-objects, brown haired, brown eyed, olive-tinted being. It’s what I need to breathe, and it’s what I will fight to keep doing. I will create the memorable characters.
And while I seem to have slightly gone off on a tangent, this is where I leave you.