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.
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?
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?