For myself, it’s the characters I remember long after the titles of the books I’ve read have settled into the bubbling quagmire that is my memory. I may not be able to place a name to them, but I can describe them — what they did, how they looked, their personalities. Those are the things I remember. That’s why I read the book from cover to cover in the first place, and, maybe re-read it a few times over the years. Hell, I’ve read Dune what, a dozen times and enjoyed each read. Maybe that says something about me, but I know it says something about the amazing characters Frank Herbert brought to life.
If a novel I like becomes a movie, I judge the film by its agreement with, or deviation from, my interpretation of the characters. I already know I liked the story, the plot, the setting, etc., but the characters are what determines whether I sit through the whole thing. I’ll watch a Harry Potter movie to the end while that vampire/teen angst-all-the-characters-are-predictably-boring with angst filled blood suckers for good or evil will drive me to go read a good book. But then, I didn’t like the book either. Did I mention angst and boring?
Loved Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. And totally agreed with Matt Damon as Mark Watney. Loved the movie too. One great character. One great solo character novel/movie. I’m getting out of prison in a few months. I can’t wait to finally binge on Game of Thrones. For all my running beef with Martin’s lack of respect for his fans (in my opinion), I’m completely invested in SOIAF as a seminal fantasy epic. Said another way — I am totally invested in the characters Martin has created with SOIAF. The Hound? Gotta meet this guy!
Honestly, there are good books enough to fill a library on writing memorable characters. So, let me just share my litmus test for the success of my characters.
-:- Am I convinced they do indeed exist? Enough so that I’ll dream about them when I’m in mid-stream of a writing binge? Do they talk to me as we become familiar with each other. Do we argue over everything (a very good sign).
-:- Are they either hot or cold? Luke warm just doesn’t do it. Not worth the ink they’re clothed in.
-:- As with a good story arc in development, do they surprise me? Do they step out of character? (Real people do.) Do they dash right off the page hell bent on going their own way, their idea being the better idea? Do we have our moments of contentious push and shove?
-:- Do I miss them when they die? Am I still thinking about them chapters later? Did I make a mistake with their deaths? Did they grate on me enough that I wanted them gone? Did I fight the urge to off ’em because love ’em or hate ’em, they added the sizzle of conflict to the story? Bottom line here, in my view, ya gotta earn yer keep if yer gonna be a part of the circus. And even then … (ominous possibilities still possible) …
-:- The highest praise I can receive from a reader is: “I love Hu and Gia!” ,or, “Dael’s temper really surprised me.” Tell me ya liked the book and, yeah, that feels good, and truly, “Thanks.” Tell me ya loved or hated a character? I’ve connected with you as I’d hoped to. I’m thrilled!