Great Characters

 

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett from IMDB.com

The literary world is full of them. Elizabeth Bennett, Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O’Hara, Captain Ahab, Anita Blake, Robert Langdon, Stephanie Plum, Miles Vorkosigan, the list goes on and on. What is it that makes them great? Any number of things depending on who you ask. In my opinion, it is that we can define what it is about those characters that help us define the greatness. In the writing world I call it clear characterization. In the reading world I call it empathy.

Clarity in characterization for me means that I understand the character’s goal, why it’s important and what conflicts come up in the attainment of that goal. Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Simple. Deb Dixon wrote a whole book on this that clarified why these elements must be present to help the reader empathize with a character.

When I was just a reader, devouring books at every opportunity was mostly what I was interested in. So many times, I’d wander into the stacks of the library, pick a book at random and start reading. The librarians all knew me. I’d be sitting on the floor just about anytime I wasn’t supposed to be somewhere else, and often times when I was, reading. They weren’t all classics. They weren’t all fiction. I can get lost in a non-fiction book just as easily if I can understand the subject. (I read a 400 page biography last Wednesday for an example. Yes, all of it start to finish.) I could fall in love with a character or hate them based on what was written on the page.

When I tried to write my first story I didn’t know anything about writing, I just wanted to write about characters that did things. The things they tried, did, experienced, failed, worried about or just plain didn’t do should make you feel. Anger, sadness, fear, happiness, hope, joy. It doesn’t matter what the emotion was, just that it was felt. That, in my opinion, is what makes great characters. Little did I know I was starting my journey in writing emulating Characterization and Plot.

Are your characters great? Write on.

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