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Introverted_Leo's avatar

In your opinion, what makes a good (fictional) character?

Asked by Introverted_Leo (1952points) February 13th, 2009

I’m looking for a little help.

I’ve been writing a story for quite some time, in which I have a few main, or prominent, characters. Most of them I absolutely love and feel I’ve got a great handle on. The problem is that I think I’ve fallen too much in love with my secondary characters and haven’t invested enough time in the main character—the hero. But he’s not exactly the “grand” hero type, which is the challenge.

I guess what I really want to know is if it’s okay to have a main character whose personality isn’t naturally exciting, and if so what other factors in a story would make this acceptable? But general opinions on what makes a good character would be much appreciated, as well. : )

(I can provide more info on my main character’s personality, if needed; but I get tempted to write a lot at first, so I’m trying to scale back and make this question as simple as possible.)

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14 Answers

mirifique's avatar

I always start getting into a character when they expose, simultaneously, a boldness/audacity and an ignorance of their own flaws or failures. It’s endearing to me for some reason.

Mtl_zack's avatar

Make the character a real person. The reader has to relate to the character. Make it look like this person could actually exist, like if he moved next door, you wouldn’t even notice that he’s a hero. Make him just like an ordinary guy. I just got back from watching Grand Torino, and Clint Eastwood did a terrible job. The chances that his character actually existing are 0. I like books where I think, “hey, that guy is like me in some ways”.

Another example is Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s Th Fountainhead. His character is so unreal, and the situations he’s in are not really possible. No one, not even the other people in the book, can relate to him.

Now, Bryce Courtenay makes excellent characters in his books. In The Power of One and Tandia, Peekay is just an ordinary guy, doing extraordinary things. The character goes through the everyday routine, and in doing so, makes it more “real” for the reader. Also, The Persimmon Tree, the boy, I find is a grea caharcter, but not as good as Peekay is.

mrswho's avatar

I’m glad that you like your characters. I’m terrible with them and just sort include them so that the story can have someone to happen to. Then I kill them once they have outlived their usefulness. As a reader though I have liked tons of non “grand hero” types. All a character really needs to be is interesting. If you need inspiration read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and do the opposite of what Bach did. Not that you can’t write about seagulls just make your character interesting, flawed, and empathetic. Good luck with your story, keep at it! :)

Dog's avatar

When taught to paint and draw botany my teacher told me that to make a plant realistic you had to be sure and put in the flaws- the insect activity and damaged leaf imperfections or the viewer could not relate to the work.

In my view the main character of a story has to be inherently flawed to be not only believable but to be likable.

aprilsimnel's avatar

The Hero’s Journey.

Every hero(ine) goes through some sort of transformation from naivete to knowledge and must overcome obstacles (either within or without, preferably both) and accept challenges to gain and use this knowledge. Also, think about what the purpose of your hero’s journey might be that s/he needs this knowledge or whatever.

Hope this helps a bit.

augustlan's avatar

It sometimes helps if you give your character a repeating behavioral ‘tic’ or quirk (chewing a certain type of gum, thinking the same thought, etc.) Think Kojak and his lollipop or Monk and his OCD . Whether or not you actually use that in the final draft, it may help you get to know your character a little better. Then you could flesh out why he has this quirk, along with other aspects of his personality.

LostInParadise's avatar

Build complexity into your character, that is to say, provide seemingly contradictory behavior. For example, the religious behavior of the characters in the Godfather contrasted nicely with their criminal activities. Or you could provide a tough character with a particular soft spot. Kojak’s lollipop, that @augustlan mentioned, is a good example. The challenge is to be able to provide contradictory behavior and still keep your character credible.

nebule's avatar

eccentricity through and through..quirky… colourful…thought provoking, deep…full of layers

Introverted_Leo's avatar

These tips are all very helpful. : ) Good stuff, so far. (I gave lurve to everyone. ^_^)

@augustlan: I love Monk. He’s eccentric to the max.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@lynneblundell: that makes me think of Shrek when he’s like, “Onions have layers…

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

My favorite characters to create are the villians. Not your typical run-of-the-mill thugs, but the TRULY evil bastards, the ones that make you want to run away screaming. Since your character is a main character, make him mentally unstable in very specific ways. OCD about unusual things, or specific places. All my favorite characters seem to be having an internal battle going on inside them, and it shows in subtle, yet glaringly obvious ways. I can’t really explain it, but the last character I fell in love with ‘spoke’ to me and instructed me, as the writer of the tale, to kill him off in order to teach the other main character the true meaning of love.

Maybe I’m not the best source for inspiration here, as I may be slightly out of kilter myself.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Interesting. Makes sense to me. : )

Does anyone have any favorite “Byronic hero” type characters, btw? I’m staring to think my character may actulaly fall more into that category…

90s_kid's avatar

Quiet, not clumsy, not obnoxious, thats pretty much it.

Foolaholic's avatar

There is nothing that says you’re hero has to be excting. Look at Stranger Than Fiction; Harold is a very average man who happens to be a little stricter on schedules than most people, and yet we still side with him. It’s not as much about who your character is (although a few background factors can’t hurt) as much as what your character does and who they become because of it.

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