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Armchair BEA: The Importance of Character

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Armchair BEA Button

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.
Two things I would love to hear from you in the comments:
  1. Who are some characters you feel strongly about?
  2. What elements make or break a book for you?
Jennifer G.

9 comments:

  1. When you talk about character development, the first set of books/author that comes to my mind is the Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling. Man, that woman has fantastic character development. This probably has something to do with the fact that her series is seven books long, but even still, it was my favorite thing about the series. By the end, I felt as if I really truly knew the characters.

    Character development is important for me as a reader, as well. If I can't relate or even like an author's characters in some way, I have a really hard time getting into the book.

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  2. I am anxious to read all the responses to this great question! The most memorable character that I have read lately is Aibileen from Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

    I think she is so memorable because the author wrote her dialog so convincingly! I could truly hear her voice - and in hearing the words I felt as though I had insight into character. I believe I would instantly recognize Aibileen on the street today - she was that vividly drawn for me.

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  3. So true about the guy from Pillars of the Earth. I hated his character so much that I couldn't finish the book!
    I have yet to discover Charles de Lint. I just know I will love his writing.

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  4. I haven't read any of those books. But, I find that character development is just as important for me as plot. If I don't have a connection with the characters, I don't really like the story, generally.

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  5. Great post :) My ability to connect and root for the characters is essential to me.

    I realllly disliked Patch from hush, hush.

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  6. Depth of character is important, but what really chaps my hide in a book is when the author/narrator is arrogant. There are a lot of literary fiction authors that think a wee bit too highly of themselves.

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  7. I just really like Gwen's expression - "really chaps my hide"!!

    I feel that if I have a strong reaction about/towards a character then the author has succeeded. When I am indifferent to them then I get turned off by the book. Sometimes an exciting plot twist or major conflict can save apathy towards the characters on their own - but even that feels like a trick.

    I am a very character driven reader. I'll forgive plot weaknesses for moving characters. But an exciting plot with bland characters only makes me feel strong emotion towards the author ;0)

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  8. I need to connect with my characters too! I hate it when a character feels weak. My usual rule of thumb is .. when I read, I get a picture of the person in my mind. How well the character is etched out depends on how sharp the image is in my mind. When I can't "see" a character, I will feel really bugged.

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  9. Great post but I don't have much to say as I mostly read nonfiction. Even when I do read fiction, I find it hard to analyze characters.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment! Have a great day!

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