It’s been my experience that readers will forgive clunky writing or plots with holes, but they don’t forgive boring or flat characters. They will hang on for a bumpy ride, so long as the protagonist/antagonist driving the story makes it worthwhile.
As a writer, the question then becomes how do we write exciting, 3D characters? The list of factors to make up a juicy hero or heroine is vast—everything from education to socio-economic background—but for me, there are five big categories:
1. Driving Passion – in real life, we may never find our raison d’etre but for great characters, there’s always something they’re passionate about. In True Grime 2: Angel Maker, Aponi Runningbear’s driving passion is to fit in. She desperately wants to find her place in the world and this colors everything she does.
2. External Want – If the driving passion is an internal motivation, then the external want is just that: the tangible something our character needs. In Aponi’s case, she wants to become part of Grime because she feels that this will satisfy her need to fit in and fulfill her driving passion.
3. Emotional Motivation – There isn’t a character written who isn’t emotionally motivated. Just like in real life, most fictional pro/antagonists are motivated by fear or love, hate or strength. In TG2, I gave Aponi a double whammy: she loves her teammates and wants to be with them and she’s afraid that not making the cut will mean being alone forever. So, not only is she fueled by positive emotions, but negative ones, as well (much like real life, come to think of it.).
4. Fear – There’s the intangible fear (i.e. Aponi’s loneliness), but characters we love (or love to hate) are usually afraid of something external, too. The thief fears being caught, the cop fears not catching the criminal…Aponi’s terrified of a bully named Malcolm, and her saving grace is that she never has to face him again—well, that is, until he shows up at her new school.
5. Learning Curve – The characters that stick in our minds have to learn something, be it big or small, about what it means to be in their skin, to be part of their world, and be part of the society at large. For Aponi, it will be learning about redemption, forgiveness, and finding out that she’s much stronger than she believes.
There are other factors that make up great characters—how they react to stress, their family, their quirks—but at the end of the day, it’s the big thing: their heart, that makes us love or (love to) hate fictional characters.
There was only one thing Natasha wanted to be when she grew up: a superhero. Sadly, this goal was made moot when she realized that being a klutz was not, in fact, a super power, and her super-weakness for anything bright and shiny meant that a magpie with self-control could easily defeat her in a battle of wills. So, she turned to writing as a way to unleash her inner superhero. She doesn’t get to live on a secret space station orbiting the earth (and thank goodness because she gets motion sick on a merry-go-round), but she still get to wear leotards, a cape and say things like, “STAND ASIDE! THIS IS A JOB FOR WRITING-GIRL!” Visit her at www.natashadeen.com, and find her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/natasha.deen.9), Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1314477.Natasha_Deen), and Twitter (https://twitter.com/natasha_deen)
If you would like to purchase a copy of True Grime 2: Angel Maker, I have provided an Amazon link below.