What Makes a GREAT Character?

Like I've said before, I've been watching a lot of TV shows lately. Whole multiple shows/seasons just devoured since Thanksgiving. When I talk to people about the shows (mostly, Jenn who's watching them all too) I find myself saying things like: "The show is well-casted" or "The characters are so developed and intriguing." After saying that about five times in a week, it got me thinking.

What is about these characters that make me love the show? And how can I take these principles and apply them to MY characters? 

Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good character. I have opinions too--but is there some kind of over-arching thing that makes a character (or cast of characters) stronger than others? Are there things we should look for in our characters? And how do you discover the things that make a character stick out in your mind?
From DOWNTON ABBEY. Some of the best characters EVER.

Well, I googled. I wanted to find out what other people thought about characters. I also asked some friends, put out a twitter poll, and googled some more. I made a list of some characters that sprung to mind from shows, and found that my favorites share consist similarities:
  • They have more going on that you know at first sight. 
  • They have to fight for something. 
  • Are passionate.
  • Are layered with hidden desires, passions and secrets.
  • They have to step out of the thing they know and search for something they love.
  • They surprise you.
  • They have this edge to them. (Sometimes it's humor, violence, sarcasm, smarts...depends on the character.)
  • It's easy to root for them, to be disappointed or to be angry. Whatever the emotion, it's easy and it's all acceptable. 
Those are just a few things I noticed. And in my googling, I found this utterly fantastic list on this blog. You should check it out for further information. I really liked the 13 points it makes about creating compelling characters.
  1. Make a character exceptional at something. 
  2. Make the character care about someone other than herself. 
  3. Make your good characters do bad things and bad characters do good things. 
  4. Give your character a unique voice. 
  5. Give your character a life that bleeds beyond the page. 
  6. Give your character a passion. 
  7. Give your character an obsession.
  8. Know your character’s psychic wound. 
  9. Give your character an attitude. Understand how your character relates to other people. 
  10. Know what your character wants the most. 
  11. Know what your character fears the most. 
  12. Think about how your character’s appearance impacts his/her life and personality. 
  13. Give your character some ‘blind spots’
I found interesting that I tried to answer all these questions for some of the characters I know in shows that I watch. It was a lot easier to answer them based on TV characters rather than novel characters. I'm not sure why that it is.

I've recently starting trying to write out an answer for each of these for all my major characters. For my minor and secondary characters, I think there are less things to answer, though equally important, and I will post some thoughts on that tomorrow.

What do you guys think: What makes a great character? Are there similiarities in the characters you like?

If you're a reader: what do you look for?

If you're a writer: Do you agree to this list and would you add to it? Can you answer these for your own character?


  1. Not to be brazen, but yeah, I think I've got a good handle on this list. Like a lot of people, I'm a character-centric writer; if you don't have a good cast, then in my opinion you might as well not even write a story.

    In my case, I've got a guy named Lloyd in my blog's web serial novel (sure, let's call it that). He's hammier than a drunken William Shatner, thinks in ways that defy common sense and reality itself, and is utterly inept at physical activity...but he compensates for it by having an absurdly high aptitude for deductive reasoning, to the point where he's pretty much a purple-haired Sherlock Holmes. And what does he use it for? Why, campaigning to build a bosomy harem paradise, of course! (It certainly helps that he's got psychic powers.)


    I've put some thought into Lloyd, but it'll be a while yet before he's absolutely perfect. If nothing else, though, he's absurd, and accomplishes the mission of any given lead character: he defines the story in ways that no other element can. He's a wild one, but he's earnest and passionate to (literally) a fault; his actions infuse the story with a spirit that makes it unique amongst others.

    If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to justify a story arc where he becomes a wrestler.


  2. I really enjoyed this, thanks! I'm going to go work on answering that list right now!


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