Jan 30, 2012

Posted by in Question | 11 Comments

Question – What Makes a Great Character?


Characters.  They are just a little important in a book.  Yeah…more like they carry the entire story on their backs (no pressure there!)  Think of it this way:  Years after reading a book, you may not remember details from the story or even where the story took place, but you’ll remember the characters.  Whether you loved them or absolutely loathed them, if a character is written well, you will remember them.  But why?

What makes a great character?

Today I ask you guys that question, and this coming Thursday and Friday, I ask over twenty authors that very same question.  Their answers are amazing – but really, no surprise there.  After all, these are the people who pen some of our favorite characters!

So after lots of deep thinking, here is what I think you guys need to do:  Today, answer my question.  Then come back later this week and see what the authors had to say.  😉


  1. There has to be something memorable about the character. Some sort of personality trait or some sort flaw. Nothing is more boring than a perfect character that everyone loves.
    I also think a name is a big deal. I recently read a book where I think I actually would have liked the book better if the heroine was named differently. The name didn’t suite the character.

    Great question. Can’t wait to read the author’s answers.

  2. I’m with Michelle; totally great question.

    But, yeah, I have no idea what the answer is. I’ll take a stab at what I love about memorable characters though.

    I love how they’re rich in all the small details, all their little unique quirks that make them totally “them”. I love how the great characters have little flaws that make them human. But most of all, I love how they can redeem themselves with such great acts that I only wish I had the courage/power/money/guts/whatever to do myself. I also love it when they have pasts (backstory), so I know why they do what they do and understand them inside and out.

  3. Too hard! The truth is I do not know, cos it is never the same thing

  4. This is a great question Julie!

    I think that a great character has to have depth. Different layers to their personality that we as readers discover over the course of a book or series. A great protagonist has to have some flaws that make them easier for us to relate to. By the same token a great villain has to have some “good” characteristics to make him/her more intersting.

    I also feel that a great character has to grow over the course of a book or series.

    I can’t wait to see what authors have to say about this later in the week 🙂

  5. I find great characters to be the ones that have a really defined personality, where their actions are clearly aligned with their personality. Nothing is worse than a disconnect between the two. Sometimes I don’t even think I would like a character if I met them in real life, but as long as they are real, i’m happy.

    The one thing I hate is a character with a ‘Tragic Background’ TM that is put in place for sympathy but has no bearing on the character today. How often do we see a character who was previously sexually abused or assaulted in the past? I tend to not even bother with those characters anymore. Not that tragic background is a bad thing, but it has to be well thought out. Some of my favourite characters are Jane True, Kara Gillian and Toby Daye. All very different, but I care equally much about what happens to each one of them.

  6. Oh, where to begin? I don’t think there will ever be ONE perfect character or even a mold from which all characters should come from. Characters are (and need to be) as diverse as the stories they tell.

    The qualities that I think all great characters should possess in some form are: FLAWS & CONFLICT because NO ONE is perfect, DEPTH OF THOUGHT & EMOTION (vapid people piss me off), QUIRKS that make them funny or easier to relate to, EMOTIONAL STRENGTH & GROWTH throughout the course of the book(s), HUMOR/SARCASM, LOVE because everyone loves something or someone (good or bad). I really like that someone also mentioned that NAMES are important. I completely agree. Characters with generic names like John Smith would be easy to forget.

    This was a great question. Can’t wait to read what others say!
    ♥Isalys / Book Soulmates

  7. I think what makes a character memorable (whether you remember the character fondly or with disgust) is the journey. Each step in the story leaves a little mark on the readers and sometimes it’s the accumulation of those steps that creates the characters for the reader but sometimes it can be one amazing moment in time.

    I love Acheron from Sherrilyn Kenyon because of his journey. He starts the series as an enigma, he is a little distant and cold but there is always the promise that there is a good reason why. And, in the end, the promise was fullfilled.

    Then there are the books with side characters that I want to know more about. I think a great example is Lula from Janet Evanovich’s One For The Money. Lula may only show up in an odd scene or two but her moments help to propel the whole story forward. The reader is led to believe that there is substance behind the flash. I have been told that Lula ends up becoming a major character in later books. I imagine that even the author realized early on that there was something special about Lula.

    As far as the single moments in time, Karen Marie Moning had a few in the Fever series. I had to laugh out loud when Barrons complained that the Scots were involved. For anyone who hadn’t read KMM’s Highlander romances, the reference would be meaningless. But as an avid KMM fan, it meant a lot to me. No, it didn’t create anything immediately but it gave a small window into Barrons’ psyche. That little moment in time has really stuck with me and can still make me smile and pick up the book to do a little rereading.

    I think an excellent example of a character that has a serious journey is Lisbeth Salander from Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She is not likeable. But, she is relateable. Everyone has felt disenfranchised at some point. Lisbeth begins the journey as a very closed off, angry young woman and by the end she has exposed a little of her vulnerability. I am looking forward to more of her transformation.

    I am really looking forward to reading what each of the authors has to say. It is such a complex topic!

  8. You really do come up with the best topics, Julie.

    I think ultimately a strong protagonist has to be an honorable one, or at least have some moral code by which they live. My favorite antagonists also have some sort of moral code – even if it’s a seriously twisted one. If the character does too much to betray others, he or she ends up betraying the readers’ faith, and we end up loathing him or her. (A classic example of this is a protagonists that plays the field too much in a love triangle situation – I end up hating them for the betrayal and hurt they carelessly dished out on their paramours). Ultimately we enjoy reading stories about characters we can respect, and maybe even look up to. Hero-types without the cape or annoyingly perfect personalities.

    Which brings me to import item #2 – it is also vital that the character have some flaws (sometimes even fatal, crippling flaws). The readers aren’t perfect; therefore it’s hard to identify with seemingly “perfect” protagonists. Failings add depth to the character, and draw us closer to them. It also allows us to see them grow through the story which increases our connection to them. Their triumphs over their own Achilles Heels can be inspirational and moving. Their redemption stories can bring us to tears.

    Tied into this is a character that is created with a fully fleshed out personality. I imagine it’s hard writing a character with a personality different than your own, but it’s vital authors take the time to really understand how and why their character responds the way they do in different situations. Nothing distracts and frustrates me more than a character breaking out of their defined personality archetype and doing something completely atypical (at least without the proper character growth and development to explain the change of behavior).

    Of slightly less importance, I feel a character is most interesting if they are shrouded in a bit of mystery. Complex characters, with twisted and mysterious pasts are the most appealing. Characters with layers, and personality quirks tied to experiences we don’t know immediately. Notably, this can be easier to accomplish with secondary characters as we tend to live inside our protagonists heads and it’s hard for them to keep secrets from us. But I’ve seen it done. Either way, adding mystery allows us to get to know them in pieces. Peeling away layers of their psyches makes the story more interesting. And there’s nothing I love more than trying to solve the mystery of a character before the author reveals everything. I guess what I’m trying to say is I like my characters to be like onions! Ha! : D

  9. Real human emotion, the connection to a reader that makes you love/hate them.
    Can’t wait to see what the authors think!!!

  10. Difficult to pinpoint what makes a great character. For me at least, the heroine needs to be strong. No whining, no doing things that makes her To Stupid To Live. I will throw down the book in disgust, no matter the story. I need to be able to connect with the characters. The hero, well, I love a strong hero, but not too alpha and overbearing and overprotective. Someone you can trust and fall for.

  11. Michelle – The name! I never would have thought about that! The name definitely has to match the personality. Great point!

    Linda – “Rich in the small details” I like that a lot!

    blodeuedd – It is hard to put your finger on it isn’t it? lol

    Vanessa – Good point about the villains needing a little something good in them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t care.

    Sara – I think authors do have to be careful with the ‘tragic background’ as you say. It’s easy to lose the reader if not done right. You will get the readers emotions worked up for the character but that’s not usually enough to sustain a relationship for more than half a book.

    Isalys – Diversity is important, you are very right. Even if the characters were great, it would get tiresome to read the same thing over and over.

    Jen – Awesome answer! And the character’s journey…that makes so much sense! You grow with the character that way too. Great thought!

    Jessica – A bit of mystery is fun. But not too much…then it just p*sses you off. lol And I totally agree about what you said about authors thinking about the ‘why’ behind their characters’ actions. Makes such a difference!

    Lexi – Real emotion as opposed to what you may think or expect. Very good. I like it. 🙂

    aurian – Strong, kick ass chicks. I think that is something I enjoy in a character too. 😉

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