What makes a great character?

I just finished reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and was exceptionally impressed with the quality of writing and the high degree of development of the protagonist, Kvothe.  I’m not the only one who shares this opinion.  Critics and over a quarter of a million readers rave about this compelling story that transcends the fantasy genre and is just a great character in a great story.  If you read fantasy or adventure or just like a good read, I highly recommend this book.

Since I read the last page a few nights ago, I have been pondering the idea of characters and what is it that makes certain characters so memorable and others forgettable.  Why do we remember Frodo Baggins  and Gollum, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, and Bella/Edward/Jacob, but can’t remember the guy who did that thing in that one book with all the magic and dragons, you know the one I’m talking about?

In my personal reading, the books that come alive most for me are the ones with the most compelling and realistic characters.  Characters that carry on in the face of all obstacles and overcome their flaws to triumph in some manner and become changed for the better, and often making the world a better place in the process.  Characters with whom I can relate on some level and identify with their struggles and vicariously experience all that befalls them.

I now ask the question of all of you.  Who are your favorite characters in fiction and why?  What is it about some characters that make them memorable to you long after you read the last page and close the book?  What makes a character come alive in your reading?

I’m hoping we get a bit a discussion going here, so please share your thoughts…

–Mark

 

 

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3 responses to “What makes a great character?

  • butchie34

    Hey Mark

    Agree completely about Name of the Wind. I read it at the beginning of the year and was really blown away by the manuscript. I think Pat Rothfuss really shows us the dedication which is needed to break into the profession.

    In terms of my favorite characters there are a few. In fantasy, I love Haplo in the Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman who is torn between his morals and obeying his leader. But then there is the entire cast of characters in Stephen King’s It. There is something about all of the characters which I can identify with.

  • Manuel

    Mark,

    For me, many of my favorite characters are those that end up dying in stories. Ned Stark (“A Game of Thrones”), Boromir and King Theoden (“The Lord of the Rings”), Sturm Brightblade (“Dragons of Autumn Twilight”), and countless others. The reason mimics what you’ve already brought up. Their deaths point to their human side; however, their deaths are not weaknesses, but rather strengths that illuminate their human qualities and set a high moral standard that I wish I could achieve.

    When sitting around with friends discussing our favorite scenes from books we’ve all read, our conversations are usually dominated by these deaths/sacrifices. Especially when the characters “man up” and die honorably. Sure Ned Stark dies in captivity. But he faces his death like an honorable man and dies by his own sword. King Theoden rides to his death, knowing it will come, but does so for the glory of freedom versus tyrannical oppression. Sturm Brightblade dies at the hands of a childhood friend while protecting his friends and honor which he held in the utmost esteem.

    These characters die for something that is greater than themselves. Their deaths may seem like failures, but with deeper reflection we can begin to see their deaths were actually triumphs of the highest order.

  • MJT

    I’ll add that I think we identify with characters with whom we can relate in that they have a deep humanity with flaws and struggles but they rise above those limitations to achieve great things. Often that greatness come with a sacrifice, usually the character’s life. But therein lies the greatness.

    I think that we often desire to be and act heroic in our own lives, to be noble, to make a difference and to overcome fears and flaws. The characters we admire most may well be the ones we would most like to emulate in our own lives, if we could.

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