What makes a good character?
This is one of those areas where everyone has a different answer. I think the most popular character in fiction is the anti-hero; someone with character deficiencies and flaws who still manages to ‘do the right thing’, even if they’re drunk, high or killing people while they’re doing it. Maybe they have a checkered past, things they don’t want other people to know about, were abused or abandoned.
Han Solo is the anti-hero. He’s a criminal, a smuggler who navigates the murky waters on the edge of civilized peoples. His priority is to make money, pay off his debts, yet he feels for Luke and ObiWan, and for Princess Leia and their plight. He gets pulled in and he does ‘the right thing’ in the end, so he’s a hero.
Another popular character is the loner, especially if they’re also an orphan. There are so many of these characters out there in fiction, and not just genre fiction. I wonder why this character type resonates with readers, why they have such an impact. Aang (the Last Avatar), Superman, Little Orphan Annie, Peter Parker, Luke and Leia (Star Wars), Harry Potter, the Artful Dodger, Frodo Baggins, James Bond, Dorothy Gale, Xena, Harry Dresden, Bruce Wayne – the list of orphans goes on and on. Their stories are always so similar; they are orphaned, they seek a place where they belong, for people who will accept them and love them even as they feel like they’re on the outside looking in, they’re loners – sometimes by choice, sometimes because others make them so. And in the end, they find some measure of what they were looking for. It can be very small – as with Bruce Wayne, or very nearly overwhelming, as with Harry Potter.
Ask yourself – when was the last time you read a story about a family unit – parents and kids – living together without issue? When was the last time the main character in a story came from a happy family / childhood and didn’t have anything lurking in the closet? (Please link your answers in the comments – I’d love to check them out.)
There is something visceral about these kinds of characters. It’s why we keep reading about them, and why writers keep creating them.
Who are some of your favorite characters? Why do you love them? Or love to hate them?