Compelling Characters

I recently had a conversation with another blogger about a book she was reading. She was saying she didn't really like the book, the plot or the writing but "the characters are so enthralling I can't stop reading." Now, my instinct is to yell, "STOP!" How can you read a book full of mediocre writing and a bad plot, and keep reading? O.O???

But she did. And she finished the book. It got me thinking about compelling characters...

So I did the only thing I could do: I made a list. (I like lists. Lists are cool.) I watch a lot of TV--and it's an excellent resource for finding grantastic characters. These are just a few on that list.

Chandler Bing.  I love Matthew Perry in everything he does because he has this way of making characters completely jump off the screen. Chandler is my favorite character from Friends because he's funny, snarky, insecure, loyal and completely honest.

Lorelai Gilmore. My friend Ashley pointed out Lorelai and I smacked myself. Lorelai (as well as Lauren Graham in general!) is an amazing character. She's flawed and she knows it. She continuously puts herself in these situations and has to figure a way around herself to get out of them. She's also fun, loving, strong and independent.

 Buffy Summers. This is a cast picture because while the show is about Buffy---who's all sorts of strong and kick-butt--she wouldn't be as great without her friends. Each of the characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer get developed and taken to new and deeper grounds, and each bring something different to the show.

 Captain Jack Sparrow. No one can deny that 2005 brought one of the best movies--Pirates of the Caribbean. And with movie four approaching, the undeniable force behind the movies is Captain Jack Sparrow. As far as characters go he's the tops. You don't really know his story--but you know he's smart, he's funny, he's manipulative even though it tends to work out in the favor of the good side. He cares about his friends a lot and he'll go out of his way to help, but it's usually in his own way. Plus, he's awesome.

LOST. I was trying to pick one character but it was hard. And as far as characters--this show is awesome. Ben Linus. Richard. Jack. John Locke. Jacob. So many! I mean, they're all so amazingly developed.

But if I have to pick one...Charlie was always my favorite.  He was flawed too (I guess I like that) but went from being a selfish druggy to the guy who died for everyone. I mean, have three more important words ever existed in television?

Sylar. Heroes did a lot of things wrong--but in the beginning (and in the end) they did a lot of things right. One of them was Sylar. He was evil, vicious, horrid. But there was something about him that made him...well...relateable. Especially when you got to know him as Gabriel Grey--the lonely son of a watchmaker who wanted only to be special and, in that pursuit, became evil incarnate. But that's not fair either, because he was so much more. He was always surprising. The show was great with characters too. It's probably the only show I watched for characters and NOT for plot. Ever.

The Doctor. I don't even know what to say here. He's The Doctor. He's the guy in the TARDIS who goes around the universe stopping evils and saving lives. He faces loss and challenges and minutes until ultimate destruction--then he figures out the answer. Sometimes, it takes a while but he always so selflessly gives and it hurts him. He's brilliant and instills hope in everyone around him. No matter what his face looks like, he's always the same.

And then there's his companions. Rose. Martha. Donna. Amy. (Even, Rory.) They are all well-developed characters, much more than a sidekick. They have their own lives, problems, trials and decisions. Everyone The Doctor meets is changed by him in some way. I mostly think of Mickey Smith, who gave up things and switched universes to save everyone--and he was a minor player in the show.

OK. So...we have all these great characters. I took the things I said about the said about the characters and made another list. Apparently, when I'm thinking about compelling characters I like a character that overcomes something to be better. I like flaws, humor, strength, loving, snark. I like when you can't really figure them out and when they are more than what they seem. I like overcoming obstacles, instilling hope, and when they are very real. Characters that help other characters grow and change--all the while doing the same thing.

These traits also cross over to books. When I think about my favorites, I can see these characteristics there. Every single thing isn't always present, but at least a couple are. Even with a compelling character, if I don't like a story or the writing--it's really hard for me to keep reading. I don't think you can separate a great character from a great story. Without one, the other doesn't matter--at least in my opinion. What would LOST be without the character development? What would Jace be like if he was removed from MI and tossed into Gilmore Girls? My guess is--probably not as effective.

So tell me--what makes characters compelling to you? What makes you keep reading (or watching) when the story is only so-so but the characters are great? What do you look for? What turns you off to a character? What makes them stick out in your memory forever? Do you settle for great characters over a great story--or does it matter?


  1. Ooo, I love all these characters. I'm glad you mentioned Sylar--he was such a fantastic character, but that show just fell to pieces and I had to stop watching before the end. He was an incredible character though.

  2. I do agree partly with your friend... If I am reading a book and I don't like the plot, I may continue reading because I LOVE the characters. However, a good plot and bad characters will not keep me interested for very long.

    I do have to disagree on one point you made, I think if Jace was thrown into Gilmore Girls, it would be VERY effective. Effective at making things interesting. Haha, I just love Jace.

    Great post (you seem to be on a roll!)


  3. This was an excellent post. I totally agree with you about Buffy. She is kind of damaged...but I looove her. I also do like Chandler even though I didn't really like Friends. Lost was just amazing (except I didn't really care for the last season).

  4. Doctor Who!!!

    And you mention Mickey Smith. MICKEY!!! I LOVE HIM!! MICKEY THE IDIOT! One of my favorite people on Doctor WHo. AND RORY!!


Thanks for your comment!! I appreciate you stopping by! :)