*Dreamy sigh* The perfect character….
Yeah, they don’t exist.
But, really, how could they? Authors are imperfect people (they’re people–everyone has faults) and what they write, the characters they bring to life, are never going to be the epitome of perfection.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t brilliant writers or characters–on the contrary, there are many authors I can only aspire to be like and characters I will only ever be able to draw inspiration from.
It also doesn’t mean that you don’t try for perfection–just don’t beat yourself up when it seems unreachable, as it is. Even the greatest author ever (you and I have differing opinions on this, most likely, but pick a favorite and insert his/her name here) couldn’t write each sentence perfectly.
I’ve been stressing out way more than I should be lately trying to figure out a character. I understand that the standard I’m trying to hold myself to probably isn’t even attainable…but realizing that and actually applying that fact to my life are two very different things.
As it’s been on my mind lately, then, I’ll share a few things about what I think make a character good–maybe even great.
- A Good Name ~
Everyone has different opinions about names, so this will differ from author to author (and reader to reader). Names are things that I agonize over for ages, because it has to be just right.
How do you know if a name is right for a character? I wish I had a better answer than “you’ll know”, but at least for me, it’s just one of those feelings. Or perhaps more like the lack of one–there’s a massive weight off my shoulders when I finally find the right name!
Generally, though, you want to make sure the name fits the personality of the character. (Unless you’re going for irony, but make sure that’s something you mean to do and that you have a reason for it.)
Fitting the genre is important, too. (A Paul would seem out of place in a fantasy world.)
I prefer a name that isn’t impossible to pronounce, though that doesn’t mean it needs to be a certain amount of letters or that there are letters you should avoid entirely.
The way a name looks is a big part of it–at least to me. Especially if it’s going to be the name of a major character; if you’re going to be seeing it every handful of pages, don’t cram a bunch of letters into a name just because you can or pick one that…doesn’t look nice. (Again, this is a personal preference type of thing.)
- Give Him/Her Flaws ~
As I said before, people aren’t perfect. In the same way, a character should never be without faults. I won’t say “the bigger the better”–not everyone needs to be a serial killer–but if nothing else, flaws are there to make a character seem more realistic. If not downright relate-able.
Sure, a flaw could be something as little as cracking knuckles when nervous…but you can do better than that!
The more inner conflict that would arise from a flaw because of the situations that character is put in, the better.
I read a book once where the main character had absolutely zero faults. It is one of my least favorite books for that very reason–it was just annoying to read! I’m all for unreal things now and then (*coughfantasycough*) but unrealistic is something completely different.
- Get To Know Him/Her ~
For you, the author, I don’t think you could possibly know too much about your darling. They’re always going to surprise you with something.
This doesn’t mean that your reader must know everything that’s happened to a character–half of the fun of reading is getting to know a character, after all. Flash-backs and the like aren’t necessary for a good story…in fact, avoiding them when it’s possible is probably the best option.
But before you plop your character into your story, you should know how (s)he grew up. Even if (s)he was a test-tube baby, that’s important! But the environment one grows up in plays a big part in their personalities. This can work either way, of course; if (s)he was exposed to something (negative or positive) early on, (s)he might be drawn towards the same thing, or might run from it as if his/her life depended on it. That just depends on the character and the situation.
I’ve heard of people going so far as to pick out a character’s favorite color and the like…if you decide to go so far as all that (I don’t think it’s necessary, though it might be fun!) I wouldn’t suggest putting it in the book, but just jot it down for your own enjoyment.
Why do they do what they do? What makes them enjoy or hate what they do? How do they react to situations–and why?
- Be Honest ~
The aforementioned serial killer isn’t going to have the mouth of a saint–if that was the case, for some odd reason, you’d better give us a believable reason! It needs to make sense.
(S)He might have a soft spot for animals or something, but that’s just a quirk–it isn’t expected, but isn’t ludicrous. (But, again, please give us a reason…even if it’s never stated in words, per se.)
Make sure the idiosyncrasies line up and that you, at least, know the reasons behind them.
- Love your darlings…but don’t be afraid to hurt them.
Who is one of your favorite characters? What do you think goes into making a great character?