So… what does make a great character?

Home Forums The Craft of Writing So… what does make a great character?

This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Jill Talbot 8 months, 4 weeks ago.

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  • #6929 Reply

    When writing the intro to this forum, I posed a sample question: what makes a great character. Now, I’m genuinely curious.

    Personally, I think they need a bit of complexity, but every rule gets broken sometimes. Jonathon Livingston Seagull, for example, only had one source of motivation, and any complexity of character was very subtle, but I connected with him quickly and easily.

    Hm. What do you think?

  • #6989 Reply

    AJ Jones

    Depth, of some sort, is important to me. When I’m reading about a character, no matter how significant their role, I need depth. I need to know what makes a character tick. I need to know why they make stupid jokes. I need to know why they treat their best friends the way they do. I need to know what pushes them to action, or inaction. A great character has depth to them. They think, and feel, and act. I want to know why.

    The more depth a character has, the more I can invest in them. And the more I invest in them, the more interested I am.

  • #6992 Reply

    Jill Talbot

    Is depth the same as knowing why a character is the way they are?

    I think that a true sign of depth is mystery.

    I’m thinking of the George Saunders’ story “Adams”. We haven’t got a clue why the narrator is the way he is, and as the story goes along, the readers’ interpretation changes.

    A good story means the characters are up for interpretation. When a reader wants to understand more than they do, I think this is a sign of success. Unreliable narrators are my favourite (as in the GS story), when the reasons they give for their actions don’t add up.

    It is a sign of weak writing, I think, when the story progresses as a sort of equation. Now that we know that Billy was in a car crash as a child, everything makes sense… That sort of technique may work well for blockbuster movies. Not so well for literature. After all, in everyday life we have very little awareness of why we, or anyone else, does the things they do. No writer has the magic answer. A good writer may just put forth the right questions.

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