This morning on the drive in to work, my husband and I were discussing what makes a good character. We came up with a slew of traits and then realized we were both naming traits that make a character LIKEABLE, not GOOD. This led to a further discussion about what the similarities and differences are between GOOD characters versus characters we favor. Here is what we came up with:
What makes a GOOD Character?
Overall, I feel a GOOD character must be well thought out and developed. They must come to life and feel like a real person. Stories need to have a variety of characters and as long as they are believable it doesn’t matter what bucket they fall in (nerdy, mean, popular, beautiful, ugly, kind, smart, dumb, etc.). So how does an author achieve this?
Consistency – Right off the bat, a GOOD character needs to be consistent. Nothing drives me crazier than when I cannot get a handle on someone because they keep randomly changing. Characters are welcome to grow throughout a story, but those changes must be shown and explained.
A well-developed backstory – I love well rounded characters that I feel I understand. A big part of growing this understanding is having a well -developed backstory. Where is this character coming from and what in their life has made them the person we are seeing today?
Strength and Weakness – When I was first thinking about this trait, I had jotted it down as “weakness with the ability to recognize their issues and overcome obstacles despite.” Then Brian said “So, strength in their vulnerability?” and hit the nail on the head. I love seeing a character show their strength by overcoming weaknesses. I think showing a character as vulnerable makes you develop a deeper connection with them and begin to care for them. This is very important in a story because it makes you become the character’s champion. I also really love when a villain is shown as having vulnerability because it makes them much more likeable and makes the reader conflicted as to who to root for.
Uniqueness shown through finer details – I love a unique character but I also recognize that little is truly unique these days. Therefore, I love when an author makes a character feel more unique by spending time developing them both visually and by mentioning their quirks. Don’t dreg us through a ton of minor details, but adding extra flair when the opportunity presents itself is most welcome. Does the character have deep wrinkles around their eyes when they smile? Does the character have an odd love of sprinkles or obsession with penguins? What is their sense of style? What are their neuroses?
What makes a LIKEABLE Character?
A LIKEABLE character is much more reader specific. When thinking of my favorite characters, I found relate-ability was a consistent theme. This is something that will differ from person to person. I could have nothing in common with a character and still consider them GOOD from a literary perspective. However, I have a special place in my heart for someone that I can relate to. What traits do I find relatable?
Attitude – I am a pretty sassy, unfiltered girl who says what she thinks and delivers it with a one two punch. I love when my characters have a similar fire.
Humor –I love when characters can good naturedly spar with each other or make jokes in the face of obstacles. I am also partial to funny internal dialogue because I crack myself up all the time.
Leadership – I find I lean more towards the leaders in a story. Does this mean I am a leader? I have had many a work staff meeting on this topic and I would say yes. I like characters that take charge of a situation (either directly or more subtly) and help solve problems.
Intelligence/Cleverness – Finally, I like characters that treat life like a puzzle because that is how I look at life. I like characters that are smart and think through things instead of jumping to conclusions quickly.
When I was typing this post I was thinking of some of my own favorite characters. Here are a few I had at the forefront of my mind:
Augustus Walters from the Fault in Our Stars –John gave Augustus a great balance of strength and weakness. The way he handled his obstacles made him absolutely vulnerable and real. He was smart, sexy, and confident which is what I want my male leads to be, but he was an absolute standout because of how he handled his limitations.
Karou from The Daughter of Smoke and Bones – She was such a kick ass girl! She has all of the LIKEABLE traits mentioned above. She was also very well developed. Not only did Lanai showed us her past but she painted such a detailed image that I felt I knew Karou. From the changing hair color to the sketches she was always drawing, she absolutely came to life for me.
Louis Litt from Suits (my favorite TV show) – Louis acts as more of a villain in the Mike/Harvey saga but he is a very likeable villain. He is another character who is well developed and has a persona outside of being a “bad guy”. He is also both funny and vulnerable.
Stiles from Teen Wolf (the TV show) – Stiles is hilarious! He dishes out attitude but delivers it with comedic relief. He is smart and takes the lead to help get his group of friends out of trouble. He is also absolutely adorable. I love him!
Brian’s favorite character during our discussion was Gandolf from The Lord of the Rings. He loved how Gandolf had a backstory showing how he became the great wizard we were introduced to. He loved that Gandolf was loyal, smart, and wise. He also liked the visual imagery of Gandolf including that he smoked a pipe.
Your turn! Do you agree that there are differences between GOOD and LIKEABLE characters? Did I forget any traits or do you have specific things you find LIKEABLE? Do you disagree with something on my list? Who are your favorite characters?