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Question of the Week: What Makes a Great Character?

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Question of the Week: What Makes a Great Character?

Post by Riley Oran on Sat May 31, 2014 4:47 am

One of our fellow members, Elodie, asked me a question in the chatbox.

"In your opinion, what makes a great character?"

I feel like this is a valid discussion for a community such as our to take part of, and something worth looking at comprehensively. After all, while the primary goal of the Genesis Project is to cultivate an environment conducive to story telling characters are one of the primary tools of our trade. Should we not then know what would make those tools better? Discussing it among ourselves is sure to bring about some great ideas to advance ourselves as a community as as individual writers, so I think we should all speak our opinions on the matter.

My opinion on what makes a character a great character is primarily a variety of things, both large characteristics and small nuances. Of course excellent writing, but what about writers just starting? Surely they too can make a great character? My answer is that yes, they can as long as they have an understanding how to do it.

I will assert that a great character has three major criteria they have to meet before they become such.

1. The first is that the character has to be established. Barring sequels, a reader is almost never attached or interested in a character at the beginning of a work. They have no background, no standing, no real reason to be prevalent in the reader's mind as an element of a story. In the end, the readers and critics are what will determine if you have a great character-- just because we like our characters doesn't mean they are good.

You establish a character primarily through descriptive interaction with the world around them, including other characters. This interaction needs to remain consistent with the character's development because if the reader can not understand why the character does what he does, they lose interest. A character's interactions are shown to be consistent in a multitude of methods, but first these interactions must be shown.

Writing these interactions out is also key. Using language that is descriptive (not necessarily rich or fancy) to explain their thoughts, feelings, and actions add flavor to these kinds of connections and endear the character to the reader. The little nuances are what tie the character interactions together, and while they don't need to be done perfectly they do need to exist inside the work.

2. The character must have a flaw. This is an absolute must. By flaw, I don't mean odd habit or quirk. I mean a character flaw, something that as a person compromises them. Perhaps even multiple, though too many flaws and the character becomes unbelievable. The flaw provides a point of imperfection and relation that the reader can identify with. The flaw may or may not also help establish the third, most important part of the foundation for a great character.

3. Conflict. Characters, like stories, need a conflict to develop. These conflicts, be they small things like losing a precious item or giant, world-threatening catastrophes shape the perceptions of the character and the character itself. Even if the conflict seems unrealistic, channeling the stress and anxiety through the characters makes them more empathetic.

Admittedly, this was a much longer post. Forumotion glitched on me, and I lost a lot of my work so I made points two and three much more concise than they were.

The ultimate point is, a Great character is not the most impressive, or the strongest, or the smartest. They may not even have an -est there, or be the "most" anything. A great character is something that a reader wants to read about, is gripped by, and forms an attachment too. They want to see what happens. They want to know how the story turns out. They feel emotions for and with the characters, and when the story ends they want more because they were left wanting. Even the most sub-par, pathetic story can be made good with a great character. And the audience's level of love and interest in that character is what determines if a character is great or not.

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[21:52:35] Astral : I simply want the readers to be as passionate about my story as I am


[19:29:25] Elodie : fite me irl fgt
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Riley Oran

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