With today being the day I host my Character Connection meme, the importance of character started to churn around in my head as I stared at my blank blog post page, desperately trying to think of something to post for Armchair BEA.
Like everyone, there are innumerable things that determine whether I enjoy a book, some I'm probably not even aware of. Something that will always make or break a book for me, and that will inevitably come up in my review, is how real the characters felt.
Historical people, fictional people, fantastical beings, anthropomorphized animals, sentient machines, it doesn't matter. I want to know them. I want to know where they came from, I want to know where they're going, I want to laugh with them, I want to cry with them, I want to love them. I want them to work themselves into my head and/or my heart and lodge there. I want authors to make me feel that. Give me characters I'm indifferent to and I will probably be indifferent to your book. Give me a character that becomes a friend and I will love her forever and sing her praises wherever I go. I don't know if that makes me a shallow reader, a weird reader, or a typical reader, but that's how I work.
The good guys are easy. I'm not a writer, so I don't know how easy they are to write, but do it correctly, and the good guys are usually easy to love. Is there anything worse than when you actually dislike the hero? That's a book I'll probably give up on.
What about despicable characters? That's a tricky one. I think there's an inverse ratio there: the more I hate one character, the more I need to love another one. All bad all the time is not my style. I need someone to root for. I need someone in the light to counteract the darkness.
Then there are those who fall somewhere in between. I do think that as I mature as a reader, these are the ones I'm more drawn to. Life might have been black and white in my teens, but I now realize that almost all of us live in the myriad of grays in between. I find these characters fascinating. How will they react to something? I don't know, so I'll keep reading to find out. I do feel that a character should always be true to him- or herself. Good characters have definite personalities and it can ruin a book for me if authors force a character out-of-character, so to speak.
In true yearbook style, here are a a few superlatives that stand out for me.
- Most Hated Character: William Hamleigh from The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Hated this brutally cruel man
- A Favorite Character: Ivy Rowe from Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. She feels like home, and there's no higher compliment I can give.
- Great Gray Character: Tyrion Lannister from A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I'm not sure which side he's on, but I like him.
- An Author Who Consistently Delivers Great Characters: Charles de Lint. He's a fantasy author, but readers who love to love characters should give him a try, no matter the genres you usually read.
- Who are some characters you feel strongly about?
- What elements make or break a book for you?