Lovable Characters

So we all want to create characters that readers will love. But what's the best way to do it? I figured one way is to look at some well-loved characters and see what draws us to them. Here's what I came up with:

Internal Conflict
When we first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, my husband hadn't read the books yet. Right after the Weathertop scene, Al turned to me in the theater and whispered, "Aragorn's a badass." We all like characters that take care of business, but I think what draws people to Aragorn is his conflictedness. He doesn't jump into his future with high hopes and a bag full of optimism. He does the opposite, in fact: he's turned his back on his destiny, run from it his entire life. We like Aragorn because he's not perfect. He makes the mistakes and choices that most of us would in his situation. Real people are conflicted. To a certain degree, characters should be, too.

I absolutely love Anne (Shirley) of Green Gables, because she's so normal. Her defining characteristics are common: she's blindly optimistic; her temper is short; she never shuts up; she has body-image issues. These qualities are so normal that I either share them or know someone personally who does. Anne is comforting; not only do her characteristics make me empathize with her, they makes me feel better about myself. Readers want characters they have something in common with; it makes the people on the page more realistic and easier to relate to.

Admirable Qualities
When the American Film Institute hosted a countdown of the top 100 heroes and villains, Atticus Finch came out on top. It's funny because when you think about him, he's...well, he's kind of a bore. He wears three-piece suits, is non-athletic and nearsighted; even his kids think he's lame. But by the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, you absolutely love him. Atticus Finch resonates with so many readers because of his admirable qualities: courage and conviction. Nothing is universal, but certain characteristics come close to being universally admired because lots and lots of people wish they shared them. These are the qualities that inspire. Readers like to be inspired. (And by the way, since I'm sure you're dying to know, the #1 villain on the countdown was Hannibal Lechter. *smacks lips*)

Ok, so Junie B. Jones isn't a classic. Yet. But among readers, Junie B is definitely a well-loved character. I know this from ten years of introducing her to first-graders. Whatever the age of the audience, people like to laugh. People like characters that are funny, which is most of Junie B's charm. I mean, she created the terms "fluffery", "cats and gowns", and "cockle-doodly-doo". How will readers not love her? Whenever possible, add humor.

So what about you? Who are some of your favorite characters, and why?

Quote of the day: When writing a novel, a writer should create living people. People, not characters. A character is a caricature. (Ernest Hemingway)


courtney said...

Great post. All of my favourite characters are not, by definition, loveable (Archie from The Chocolate War for example--he was so smart and cutting). :) But I think a lot of the same rules apply for making an unlikeable character understood/empathetic. Internal conflict, elements of relateability, admirable qualities (you may not like the bad dude, but you might admire his cunning), humour (however bleak/disturbing). Interesting...

Becca said...

Good point. I agree that the same rules can apply to the bad guys--that in fact, they probably should, to make them just as 3-D as the protags.

Jemi Fraser said...

You've listed so many of my favourites!! I worried when I reread Anne a few summer's ago that she would have lost that magic - that my memory would have made her better than she was. Nope. My all-time favourite character ... I think :)


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