Thanks for all the comments about your favorite characters in response to my last post. After coming up with my list, I thought about why those characters are so appealing to me. There are certain character types and certain contexts that really work for me. They may not for you, but that’s okay. You can tell me why you love your favorite characters in the comments.
For what it’s worth, here’s my list:
Characters who come out of the dark side. Yes, I love me a good redemptive story. I love characters who start out bad, or conflicted, and, after a lot of struggle and pain, make it over to the Good Guys’ Team. Characters who have to overcome their own culture, upbringing, past or personality to do the right thing.
Also, the dramatic character change *has* to be logical. An about-face with nothing to base it on doesn’t work me. The seeds for the change should be present from the beginning.
And, while I like characters who change, I also like characters who stay the same. I like the steady ones, the reliable ones. No matter how else they change or grow, there are one or two deep-rooted values that they will never compromise–whether it’s staying faithful to a spouse, or never kicking puppies. No matter what the provocation, and no matter how tempted they are, and no matter how much easier life would be if they just kicked that cute little spaniel puppy with the melting brown eyes.
I like characters who are not perfect. And by that I mean they have real flaws, not virtues in disguise. “I am so compassionate that I always stop to help old ladies cross the street/rescue kittens from trees, therefore enabling the bad guys to catch me by disguising themselves as helpless old ladies and/or kittens” does not count. Give me characters who struggle with envy, pride, anger, impatience, impetuousness. Characters who are not the best at everything they try and who have to work for their successes.
I’m also fond of underdogs. Those characters who are at a disadvantage because of lack of ability, lack of social status, or physique. Those who work hard (see above!), strive to rise above their disadvantages, and use wit and humor to get in and out of trouble. Oh, and I detest angsty whiners. If the character mopes around miserably for more than a few pages, then it cancels out any credit they get for being an underdog.
And please, I want characters who have agency. Whose actions drive the plot, not the other way around. If a character has to do something TSTL in order to get the plot change you want, don’t do it. You cannot tell me that a character is intelligent and street-savvy on one page, then have her go into the haunted basement while the lights are out by herself. Without a flashlight. And a big EAT ME sign painted on her forehead. Passivity is an even worse sin. Characters should do things–and suffer the consequences–not constantly have things done to them.
Characters should show a whole range of moods and feelings. I don’t like characters who strike the same note over and over again, whether it’s snark, boredom, rage, naivete, whatever. I’m tired of characters who substitute a smart mouth for depth and complexity.
And I like characters who have that certain spark. It’s hard to define what that is, but some characters are so delightful and surprising that they leave me grinning whenever I read their scenes. Maybe it’s because they think out of the box, or pull off the most outrageous plans. Maybe they’re an unexpected–but appealing–combination of attributes I’ve never seen before. Maybe because I read about them and go, Yes, I know exactly how this character feels right now. Maybe that character and I have the same hopes, fears, reactions.
What about you? Why do you love your favorite characters?