September 13, 2014

What I like about my favorite characters

I'm the type of reader whose enjoyment of a story is greatly influenced by my feelings toward the main characters. All things being equal, I'm more likely to enjoy books where I like the protagonists.

What makes me like a character? I've been trying to figure that out because I also want to write characters that readers feel an affinity toward. Here's my list of what attracts me to my favorite characters.
  1. They exhibit redeeming qualities that would make me like them in real life. I like people who are unselfish, modest, and dependable, for example. Fortunately, in many of the books I read, the main characters possess those qualities. They're the typical "good guys." Consider the trio in Harry Potter or Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games. They think of others, are fiercely loyal to their friends, but they don't seek the limelight despite their achievements.
  2. They have a flaw that they overcome. I don't expect the protagonists to be perfect. In fact, they shouldn't be, but through the course of the story, they should discover their major flaws and strive to address them. That assumes that the character wants to better himself/herself, which is another quality I like. Oh, and the flaw can't be something so huge that it's unforgivable.
  3. They are believable. Regardless of whether a story takes place in a fantasy world or a distant future, the characters should act believably, even when their actions seem extreme. For example, when Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in Prim's place, I believed she'd really do that because of her love for her sister.
  4. They have a sense of humor. This is a bonus. I like plenty of characters who are serious, but it's more fun to read a book where the characters inject humor into their situations.

Conversely, there are factors that make me dislike a character (and hence a book).
  1. They are flawed to an unforgivable extent or they don't try to fix their flaws. I'm not a fan of the anti-hero as a protagonist. Nor do I particularly enjoy main characters who are drunks, violent, lazy, or otherwise exhibit attributes I dislike in people I meet. For example, I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Her writing is great, but I didn't like the book as much as I could have because I just didn't like the character of Nick Dunne. I won't go into details about what he does because I would give away spoilers, but he's flawed to the point that I would dislike him if I knew him in real life.
  2. They make dumb decisions or decisions that seem to only move the plot forward. Matched is a great example of this. Although I liked Ally Condie's writing, I just couldn't get over the fact that Cassie chose Ky over Xander so early in the story for no apparent reason other than that, if she didn't, there'd be no story. Needless to say, I stopped reading that series after the first book.
  3. This is more of a comment on character development than the characters themselves. When an author spends too much time on "character development" by describing everything they do in every hour of every day of their lives (hello, Stephen King?), that puts me to sleep. You don't need 600 pages to develop your characters!

What is it about your favorite characters that make you like them so much? What don't you like about your least favorite characters?

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