Have you ever asked yourself what makes a memorable book, story or movie? Why did you get into it? What compelled you to keep reading or watching the screen? If you had to label one thing that you remembered most about a story or movie, what would that be?
For me, and for most editors and readers -- it's the characters. Great characterization brings interest and intrigue. It's hard to enjoy a movie or read a book if you can't relate to the main characters. It's even harder if they aren't sympathetic meaning they are someone that you want to learn more about, someone you can sympathize with, someone that will hold your interest. If you don't find them worthy or redeemable in some way, you won't care about them.
So does that mean that you have to make your characters perfect in every way? Do you have to sugar coat them to make them sympathetic? The answer is a big resounding NO. In fact, perfect characters make for boring reads. The reason we root for and cheer on a character, is because they're FLAWED and we can sympathize with them. Or if not, we can certainly understand them even if we don't think much of them in the beginning.
The movies that have stuck with me, have done so because the story told was compelling. And why? Because the hero wasn't such a nice guy. He wasn't a man you'd expect. Same with the heroine. Think of "An Officer and a Gentlemen". Richard Gere's character came with major baggage. He didn't get along with his fellow boot-campers. He was a loner, a man who needed no one. He had issues with his father. Didn't believe in commitment. He was selfish in the beginning, but mostly, HE WAS INTERESTING. And in some ways, we could relate to him, though we didn't necessarily like him.
Think of Patrick Swayze's character, "Johnny" in Dirty Dancing. He thought Baby was a spoiled rich daddy's girl. He wasn't nice to her. He was every mother's nightmare for their daughter. But we saw his layered character, when he comes to the aid of his friend. We saw a softer side of him, and gradually, we came to understand him. Baby on the other hand, never really took risks. She was truly "daddy's little girl." She was the good daughter, the one her parents could always count on. She was the "baby." Until she met Johnny. Then everything in her life changed. She began to take risks, to come of age, to become the woman she was meant to be. WE LIKED HER, because at one time in our lives, maybe, we were just like her. Or maybe, we remember falling for the unattainable dangerous boy who'd never be within our grasp. Whatever the reason, both of these characters STUCK with us. We knew them. We liked them. We rooted for them.
In Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, we see a really ditzy character in our heroine. From way back in the first book, (she's up to #13 now) Stephanie captures our imagination. She gets herself in big trouble every time, finds herself chosing between two hot sexy boyfriends, Joe and Ranger. She's got a nutty grandmother, a pet hamster named Rex who is her best friend, a flamboyant partner, ex-hooker, Lula. With the Plum series, I was a late bloomer, not having read them from the beginning, yet after reading the first paragraph on the first page, I knew I'd read the entire series. Couldn't wait to catch up. AND I turned my sister and best friend onto the series.
Stephanie Plum was different than any character I've ever read. A female bounty hunter in the heart of New Jersey? She was witty and silly and fun. Being a romantic at heart, I couldn't pass up the chance to see who Stephanie would end up with. Would it be Joe Morelli or Ranger? I still want to know -- but I do have a favorite. Do you?
What character stuck with you for days or weeks or months after you've read the book or seen the movie? Ask yourself why that is.
Tune in on Tuesday for: Characters Don't Exist in a Vacuum/ Layering your Characters.
And be sure to enter my Summer Contest at Romance Junkies:
Good News: Between the CEO'S Sheet's hits #7 on Borders/Waldenbooks list in June! Bunking Down with the Boss is nominated for the National Reader's Choice Award!