Monday, March 28, 2011

Characters to Love & Hate

I've been thinking about literary characters a lot lately. I'm trying to figure out what makes my favorite characters so great. Sometimes I make a list of what I love about a certain character (like Edward Cullen <don't roll your eyes at me!>) and what I hate about other characters. So what have I learned from these possibly pointless exercises? If anything, I have learned (like Alyssa said in this post) that listing adjectives about a character is not the same thing as really knowing who they are as "people." That goes with real life people, too. Right?

Ted Bundy had a great sense of humor, was nice to his friends and family, and charming (yuck), but that doesn't tell us anything about who he really is--a messed in the head, psycho murderer. Sure, we can make a list about Edward Cullen that says he is moody, brooding, intelligent, sentimental, and a sparkly Vampire, but does it tell us anything about who he is as a real-unliving-unbreathing-granite-fleshed person? Those traits alone are shallow, meaningless. There is something else, something special about him, something deeper than a mere list of adjectives, that has made women of all ages (and some men, maybe) fall in love with him...uh...I mean, fall in love with his character!

Have you figured out why you love the characters in your favorite books? It's not just because they are moody, brooding, intelligent, etc. Those are only snapshots, one second impressions. It's how those traits combine. It's what the characters say and do (or what they said and did in the past) that make us love/hate them. And really, REALLY <epiphany in the making!> it could come down to one simple fact.
What do WE long for in a relationship with a lover--a friend--a parent? Are our favorite characters a reflection of our personal wants and needs as real, living, breathing people? I think that may be it, ultimately.

One thing I know for sure: there about a million, no, a BILLION personality combinations. That means each and every character you read in a book should be completely different from the characters in other books, right? If an author does their job, they will be. Are the characters we love ALSO the ones that are unique in the pool of literary characters?

Here is a question I need some help with. Are there make-it or break-it character personality traits?

Have you ever been on a date with someone and REALLY liked them until you found out...they smoke...or call their mom the B word? And, on the other hand, can someone you dislike grow on you a little if you find out something good about them?

Would we like Voldermort a little better if we knew he donated money to orphanages around the world AND cured cancer? (That's a stretch, I know) But would we like Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice) a little more if we knew he was browbeaten by his parents and made to feel like a complete imbecile? (Please read this last line over again in a British accent just for the heck of it!) Would we like Edward Cullen less if we knew he kept jars of REAL human blood under his bed to drink when he was alone in his room?

How would you feel about a character that seems pretty cool until you found out they didn't believe in god? Does it change anything? If you are an atheist, does it change your like/dislike of a character if they did believe in god? In real life, most people don't like or dislike a person based on their religious beliefs. But does the same apply to a person's like or dislike of literary characters?

For the other writers out there, I really recommended getting a copy of Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. It will really open your eyes and help you improve the depth of your characters.

In closing, I'm REALLY curious about this (especially the religious stuff). I'm a writer, you know, and I'm trying to do research. I'd love to hear your opinions.


I believe the Robert Pattinson photo came from Vanity Fair.
And just for the record: I love Edward Cullen and Robert Pattinson, too. Ah, sigh, ah.....sigh.......sigh........sigh. Okay, I'm done.