My “Good Book” Shopping List – Part 2: Characters

April 17, 2012     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Random Thoughts, Reading

So, what is it that makes a book good? This is a question that has haunted everyone in the writing industry, probably for as long as there has been a writing industry. As I want to be a published author someday, I think it is a good thing that I am examining the question now.

A book is broken up into two major points for me, story and characters. “But Erin, aren’t characters a part of the story?” Well, yes. Of course they are. But they are also important on their own. And they have their own pitfalls. Neither characters nor story are more important than the other. You can’t have a story without characters, and characters without a story is just a lot of writing for no good reason.

Therefore, without further adieu, I bring you my personalized list of what makes a book “good”. Let’s start with characters, shall we?

Characters:

Personality.
The character needs to have a personality. Whether they are a raging idiot, a mean old jerk, or the sweetest little princess ever. Personality is key. Hand in hand with that is personality flaws. No one is perfect. Real people are complex. Real people have a whole range of thought and emotion behind what they do. Speaking of real people…

Relatability.
I want to see myself in a character. It can be in the way the character looks. It can be in the way the character acts or feels. It can be in a decision the character has to make or a situation they have to get out of. I mean, who hasn’t had to lie for some reason or other? Whether the lie is taking place in a fantasy world or a suburban town, it doesn’t matter. It is relatable. And don’t get me started on how I feel when I see a character overcoming an obstacle I find myself facing. It endears me to that character. For forever.

Conflict.
Nobody’s life is perfect. There are little conflicts like choosing what to wear. There are big conflicts like getting into a car crash and losing a loved one. That said, I hate when a character focuses on the little things. Like, get over it already. The world will not end if your pants and shirt do not coordinate. And seeing how that character deals with a difficult situation is awesome, and often very enriching.

I hate to name and shame, but I want to explore some characters I really enjoyed and some I didn’t. And the why, of course.

– Kvothe from the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.
He has a mouth that runs away with him and gets him into trouble. He is hopelessly in love with someone. He has money troubles, and he has a passion for music. He is very relatable for me, and an enjoyable character to read.

– Verity Price from Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
This is an opposite end of the spectrum for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the narrative voice (which is first person Verity), but I don’t like Verity herself. She didn’t show any vulnerability at all through the entire book. And that made me feel distanced from her.

– Bella Swan from the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers
People are going to think I am going to rag on Bella. But I actually think she was a well-portrayed character. She was vapid and shallow and cared about her boyfriend above pretty much everything else. But have you known many teenagers that don’t act like that? The self-absorbed, “I need a boyfriend” mentality is rampant among young girls. And while I don’t agree that it is an OK attitude to have, I think Bella portrays an average teenage girl pretty accurately.

– The second wife from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
This is a case of “I can’t remember the character, but I liked the book”. The character wasn’t memorable enough.

– Amy and Elder from Across the Universe by Beth Revis
These were characters I couldn’t stand, because they had no personality. I didn’t care what happened to them. I remember the bad guys of this book much more clearly, and not because they were well written. Mostly because they had passion. They believed in what they were doing.

So, what makes a character enjoyable for you?

Talk bookish to me!