The Importance of an Interesting Character

Picture by Ben Gagnon Photography

I consider myself an artistic person.  If something has words or pictures, I can create it.  I’m not blessed with the gift of agility and balance, or with a lovely voice, so dancing and singing is pretty much out of the question.  Everything else, however, is free game.  Writing anything, sketching, painting, scrapbooking and other various crafty things… love ’em.  Writing (obviously) is very close to my heart, but so is one other thing – the theatre.

I made my first stage appearance as Clara in a production of the Nutcracker Suite.  Granted, it was fourth grade, and I hit some guy in the audience with my slipper instead of the Rat King… but we don’t need to go there.  Ever since, I have been theatrically inclined.  When I learned that I fail at projection (and singing.  and dancing) I moved to the world of improv theatre, and it came to me naturally.

In theatre, the creation of character is essential.  In larger productions, someone has already created the character for you and all you need to do is apply it and expand it within certain limitations.  Improv is much different.  You step on to that stage a blank slate, and you have about thirty seconds (if you’re lucky) to create a fully rounded character.  You can’t go on stage and say “hi!  I’m like, Mary Sue, and I like,  like, stuff!”  No.  That is fail!improv.  You have to create insta-backstory, motive, fears, likes and dislikes, consistent personality traits, allegiances… everything.  And if you don’t do it well, you lose your chance to charm the audience.

Writing isn’t a whole lot different.

I’m not going to under-appreciate essential points like plot, theme, setting, style, spelling and grammar… but characters are incredibly important in the creation of a good story.  I have kept reading books that I disliked because I liked the characters in them.  I know there are other readers out there like that, too.  I want to feel, breathe, and embrace every major character (and some minor characters) I come across.  I want to feel like, as I read the story, I can step into that character’s shoes and actually be in her world.  Don’t you?

Obviously, we shouldn’t make them too complicated, because then the audience won’t relate at all, and we’ll get those metaphorical tomatoes thrown at us.  But it’s the little things that arouse sympathy and empathy that are important.  I have an acquaintance who loathes the Potter books, but loves Harry because they share a birthday.  We don’t call Marion a traitor in Scarlet because we know that she loves Bran (even though she hasn’t said) and what she’s doing, she is doing for him.  All the bits and pieces.  I can say honestly that I am upset with J.K. Rowling because I feel like Draco Malfoy showed definite signs of redemption, and she denied him that opportunity.  Who knows?  Even a well-placed character may turn your audience against you (but they’ll keep gobbling up your books).  But Kristin Nelson reminds us that appealing a character to the reader is important.

So.  My questions for you are:

1.)  Who are your favorite characters in fiction of all time, and why?
2.)  Have you ever put down a book because you didn’t like the characters?
2b.)  Have you ever kept reading an uninteresting book because you loved the characters?

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1 Response to “The Importance of an Interesting Character”


  1. 1 someniceletters September 4, 2010 at 4:56 am

    1. Severus Snape. I like that he straddled good and evil and never really found his place in the world. He was truly a complex character, and the way it was revealed was so surprising that I think it really taught me not to judge others as harshly as I used to. He wasn’t perfect, and definitely not a hero – he only did the good for Lily and her memory – but he’d be fantastic to write fanfic about.

    2. Yes. I think it was a Nancy Drew book. For some reason, she came off as a complete Mary-Sue, and I just could not deal with it.

    3. The Beautiful and Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book was very long and tedious, but I loved the main character and what he went through. I think it was interesting to follow the character and learn who he was and why.

    And on the comment about Draco Malfoy, I completely agree. He was very close to redemption, but he never got it. Part of me understands why – I believe it would’ve been too picture-perfect and there didn’t seem to be enough time to fit all the pieces together in the last book – but also I can’t help but feel like there was more to Draco. He never got a chance to show all that.


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something to think about

"You know, I don't know if you'll understand this or not, but sometimes, even when I'm feeling very low, I'll see some little thing that will somehow renew my faith. Something like that leaf, for instance - clinging to its tree despite wind and storm. You know, that makes me think that courage and tenacity are about the greatest values a man can have. Suddenly my old confidence is back and I know things aren't half as bad as I make them out to be. Suddenly I know that with the strength of his convictions a man can move mountains, and I can proceed with full confidence in the basic goodness of my fellow man. I know that now. I know it." ~ End of Act I in the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

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