Hi Virtually Readers! A while ago, I asked what makes a good setting; now I’m going to look at characters.
A lot of people say that characters are the best part of the book. This is obviously subjective, but it makes sense, because we are people just like the characters. Book readers are not places (setting), events (plot) or words (language). I suppose it is easier to relate to anything that is like you, and really, it’s the characters who shape the plot, make the setting interesting, and bring the books’ language to life. In reviews, it’s easy to complain (or praise) characters for their relatableness (totally a word), flatness/roundness, or voice. But what are these things, and why do we want them?
I certainly look for roundness in a character. Imagine a ball. You can turn it around, and see it from several perspectives. A round character is like that. They are easy to understand because you see all of them, not just one aspect. Bad characters are often flat. You might see only one side of them or not all of their personality. And it doesn’t have to be a MC for this to happen! For example, with a flat character might like diving. But with a round character, you know their dead mother was a diver, and they feel connected to her when they dive, but also dislike it, as their father pressures them to win all the diving competitions. Another example: A flat character might be ‘nice’ while a round character is kind sometime, but angry sometimes. You see multiple sides to their personality, and understand them as a whole, not just who they present themselves as.
It would be unreasonable to expect to find characters exactly like you in every single book you read about. It would also be boring. But a good character should be understandable. You should ‘get’ why they do what they do and think what they think, and maybe you’d do the same in their shoes. When a character is round, it’s easier to understand them, because you see more than one reason for their actions, more than one thought behind their feelings. Other things can also make a character relatable: maybe they live in a place similar to yours, or enjoy things you do, or react to hardship the same way (going and hiding in a book-filled tower.). So often round characters are relatable.
Nobody’s perfect. A good character should reflect this (I guess this is a subset of ’round’). It’s nice to see characters who save the world, but still feel hungry. Or maybe they are trying to be good-but get caught up in a few mishaps along the way. Maybe they’re tempted to do bad things. Maybe they do, but there’s good reason for it. Good characters, including villains, should be morally grey.
Morally grey characters: Frodo, Gollum, Levana, Harry Potter, Snape, Brimstone.
This is more relevant to first person books, and also related to the author’s use of language.Voice is the distinct language the character uses to express themself, both while speaking and narrating (Sometimes you can get a sense of it just in the way the third-person narrator talks about them.). It should make the character feel unique and different to the other characters, and their subtle choice of language should help you (the reader) understand the character better. Voice is especially important with multiple perspectives and multiple main characters, and can really help you understand them better in a less obvious way. For example, if they describe their friend as ‘pretentious’ rather than ‘showy’, you might think your character is well educated or likes long words without this directly being stated.
Do you agree? What did I miss? Which books have really, really good characters in them? Which ones don’t? Do you have a favourite character?