An admission about my tastes: I’ll excuse a lackluster plot for a character I can fall in love with. This is how I justified reading Anita Blake books for years. I had a soft spot for one of her vampire characters (Asher) and would pretty much read any steaming horse pile Hamilton shoveled at me just to get snippets of my scarred love dumpling. To this day when I think about his angsty vampy self I sigh and my eyes glaze over, because Asher was and is one of my favorite characters.
There’s a handful of characters that stick out that much for me, and fortunately, not all of them are forced to keep their heads above a tide of fictional dribble like poor Asher. Julian from Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour comes to mind, as does Shadow from American Gods. I’ll never fall out of love with Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, and Morgause from Mists of Avalon remains my all time favorite bitch. Pocket from Chris Moore’s Fool is far too lovable, and Death from Good Omens is just spectacular (and he has the added bonus of making appearances in a bunch of other Discworld novels). There’s more, of course, so many more, but those are a few examples of characters that ran away with my imagination. They came, they saw, they conquered, they linger.
The goal of any writer is to create characters that memorable, I think. Trying to pinpoint the magical recipe of awesome is difficult, though. Sometime back I issued myself a challenge: to see if there’s a formula to crafting a lovable character. Was there a checklist that’d help me construct something spectacular, and if so, could I mimic it? I pawed through my list of favorites and tried to pick out any common traits. Did they all have strong personalities? Were they funny? Were they smart? Did they smell good? WHY IN GOD’S NAME DID I LIKE THESE CHARACTERS ENOUGH THAT I CAN READ THE BOOK FORTY TIMES? The problem, of course, was that each one was so different, I could see no pattern at all. Sometimes the character was witty, sometimes tough, sometimes clever. Not all of them were even particularly likable people, as in if I met them in real life I’d probably want to punch them, but on the page they worked and without them the story would fall epically short.
Conclusion: there is no cheat sheet way of making a “Character Keeper”. Dang it.
So I’m left wondering how to make something stick with a reader. I know it’ll be different for everyone because it’s a taste thing. Some people will want “cool”, some people will want funny or hyper intelligent and socially awkward. As a writer looking at a 35,000 word work in progress, though, I’d be curious to know who sticks with you and why? What was it that drew you into a character and kept you, or was it the amalgam of the character’s parts? I know when I write I tend to adopt a character here and there, essentially choosing them as my favorite and I think it shows when I do, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to everyone else loving them as much as I do.
So, help a writer out and get a nerdy character discussion going. What characters do you love/love to hate? Which ones will always be on your shelf, and which ones will you always champion? Share with the class, folks!