Monday, November 14, 2011

What Makes a Character Interesting?

I’ve seen a lot of books out about this subject; how to make realistically interesting characters. I actually own one, though I never have, and most likely, won’t read it. Why? Character development is one of the things I am most proud of doing, because I feel I do it well.
I would define an interesting character as someone you can come to know. Literally! Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (two of my favorite authors) are GREAT at this, because they realize people are people. This is true whether imaginary or not. A great character is complex, good, evil, kind, and cruel. We, as people, have all been and will be again, these things. It’s just the nature of the beast.
This lays the groundwork for the art of creating our heroes, villains, and side characters. Be weird! Nothing is more real than the bizzare. Fact is, indeed, stranger than fiction, LITERALLY. Go read some historical books, or scientific articles, and you’ll see the universe is outlandishly strange. So, too, should our characters (and people, in fact). For example, in the past year or so I ran a D&D group (yes, I’m a huge nerd), and people loved it. Why? I think because of the characters.
Here I’ll outline some odd and funny examples:
-Twin brothers, one’s a good priest of healing, the other is an evil priest of war, and  they love each other...brothers and all. Totally opposite in every way (besides appearance) but they love each other. One told a funny story about their childhood…one found a stray cat to take care of…the other one killed it…you can figure it out! It's just a quirky thing that isn't totally unrealistic. Heck, I know family that if we ever got into a political/religious conversation we would end up choking each other out. 
-A demon who was madly in love with one of the player’s characters. MADLY in love. A character thought it would be funny to feed him a love potion…and it was…for hours…HILARIOUS!
-Another great character, the players overall favorite, was a traveling minstrel who was a pathological liar, but he was funny! He told great stories about heroes, villains and monsters he’d slain…half were true…a half he thought were true…the other half he made up, and still more were taken from the people who had done the very deed he claimed was his. :)
How does this translate into writing great characters? Easy, your villain is the epitome of evil. He steals, lies, and murders at a moment’s notice. BUT perhaps, he loves beautiful sunsets, and must stop and watch it everyday. Perhaps, his evil deeds hide the fact his life isn’t what he wanted it to be, or he'd rather be a painter. Basically the more contradictory a character may seem makes them more real. After all, there is the theory of 3 "You's"...there is you as you think of yourself. There is the you that others see you as, and then there is the you that IS you. Abstract theory? Yes, but applying to one's writing can only help fleshing out the world and its inhabitants.
On the other hand, your hero can be an alcoholic. Cliche? A little…but when he drinks he lashes out physically at whosever there, wets his pants, and wakes up ashamed of what he has done. Every other night he’s out saving the world, but then he sees a car drive by…a car he swears is his father’s who left him as a child. He gets drunk that night, gets arrested, and now is the criminal…so to speak.
These are not well thought out characters, as I am writing this on the fly. However, they are fair examples. Think of Frankenstein’s Monster…best character EVER!!! And why? Because he’s complex, he’s evil, he’s good, he wants to be good, but can’t be. Just being ugly turns him into a murderer, a simple analyzation, I know.
A great character will have readers coming back, and will have you, as the writer, salivating to write about them again. You read the dialogue, and think, “That is just so Bill!” Having that effect on you is what makes Bill a GREAT character!
Farewell, and keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

Who are some of your favorite characters? I'd like to know!

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