What Makes a Great Character in a Novel?
|Katniss!! by Pop Culture Geek flickr.com|
One of my favorite authors is Suzanne Collins--I love both Hunger Games (as does the rest of the world) and Gregor the Overlander (her middle-grade series that is a bit less famous). When I think of favorite characters in novels, Katniss and Gregor immediately come to my mind. I wish I could say something more literary or classic came to mind, like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. But I'm not going to lie. The best I can do with classic is Huck Finn and Wilbur. (After all, I'm a children's writer.)
So, what makes me love Gregor and Katniss and Huck Finn and Wilbur? Well, first of all, they are brave and flawed. They aren't afraid to stand up for what is right, but they don't always do the right thing (well, Wilbur probably does); and sometimes, they are very selfish. They have adventures that I want to have. They make things happen in their lives. But this is true for so many characters. Why, why do these stand out to me? I'm still trying to figure that one out.
And why don't I like some characters? I'm not fond of Bella from Twilight. I've read all four books and will never say an unkind word about Stephenie Meyer; but I was never so glad that an author switched point of view in a book, as I was in the fourth book when we finally got inside Jacob's head. I couldn't take one more second of Bella. Why? She has some of the same qualities I listed above. But for me, she came off a bit whiny and neurotic, too.
I also like humor and intelligence--all of those characters I love have both of those traits. I try to model my characters after the ones I like--their characteristics anyway. For example, in the YA novel I just signed a contract for (YAY!), my main character, Julie, is a fairly popular senior girl who is not going to sleep with her boyfriend no matter how hard he tries. She also is a drama queen and worries about her teeth turning yellow and the sometimes sweat she has under her arms when she's nervous. She is a loyal and good friend. When push comes to shove and her family needs her, she faces her fears and gets the job done. Although my book isn't about fighting to death to feed the people in your district, like in the Hunger Games series, Julie shares some of the same characteristics as Katniss. (Just don't giver her a bow and arrow. . .) As a matter of fact, maybe Jennifer Lawrence will be available to play Julie in the film version of my book, Caught Between Two Curses. (Yes, you should be laughing out loud right now.)
So, obviously, I don't have the magic answer for what makes a great character in a novel. But what I do know is this--the person (or thing or animal) has to have characteristics we can admire and root for, while also having some flaws to work through. The character has to remind us of ourselves in some way. When you find those characters you love, make a list of their traits. Figure out why you love the character and how the author showed you their traits in the story. Then get to work on your own character. Of course, you never want to copy. But you can study and learn from what you already love.
So, who's your favorite novel character and why?