So you’ve got a great idea for a novel. You even have a general outline for the plot and have thought up a great character to play the protagonist’s part. Other than making your hero/heroine an all-around great person who commonly helps little old people cross roads – even when they don’t want to – and contributes generously to local charities, should you imbue him/her with only positive qualities?
NO! Readers actually empathize more easily with protagonists who have some flaw in their character, but one that doesn’t stop them from “getting the job done, come hell or high water.” Some of the more memorable characters in fiction have been sloppy (but never in their thinking processes), fearful of dark places, addicted to something or other (think Sherlock Holmes, one of my favorites), and the list goes on.
The important thing to remember is that, whatever flaw your protagonist has, although it makes their road to success rockier, they still prevail in the end against all odds. That’s what makes a truly memorable character.
I’m on my third book now (my first two were stinkeroos) and I’ve decided my numero uno character – hero, I guess you’d call him – needs some bad traits since I read somewheres that that makes a hero memorable.
So while he’s out wooing great-looking babes and kissing little brats to get a political office, he also picks his nose when he thinks no one is looking. He picks his zits too even when someone is looking. (he’s still in his teens) He also farts in public since he thinks that’s what good ol’ boys do and that’s the vote he’s aiming for.
So do you think he’ll be a memoriable character? My first two books had kinda wimpy characters, and I think this one is lots stronger. Am I rite or wrong?
Yes, I do believe you have a “memoriable” character in this book of yours. So realistic and full of – something, perfect for a political candidate.
But…and this is a big BUT…(I’ll bet your character scratches his butt in public, too, huh?) you don’t want a character that’s too realistic, especially if it’s a teenager. You have to endow them with some saving graces if you want readers to truly identify with them. If all they see are negative characteristics, they won’t want to read any farther.
Even though experts suggest that a character have at least one, probably no more than two, weak points, I don’t think nose-picking or public farting will win you any adherents any time soon. Now if your character is trying to overcome a drinking problem, or a seizure disorder, or even delusions of grandeur (you would make a great character for a novel; have you ever thought of writing your memoirs?), then add altruism, true grit, humor, etc. – that would make for a truly memorable character. For instance, he could crack a joke while in the throes of a seizure, if that were possible. And, of course, anything is possible in a novel. Did you say this was going to be a young adult fantasy?
Now why don’t you run along and write your autobiography? You can even plug your first two novels – preferable with a 45-caliber – and style yourself, falsely of course, as the “Great American Novelist.”
Now excuse me while I go scratch my…uh…butt.