Friday, September 7, 2012

To love a character

What is it that you admire most about your favourite character? Is it that he is made of muscle and can fly? Is it that she has a huge heart yet is much stronger (emotionally) than all the men around her? Is it that every guy falls at her feet or that inside he's a really big dork?

Maybe you love this character because he, or she, succeeds every time.... or maybe it's because he/she simply tried.

In most novels, you expect the character to succeed. It's pretty much part of the standard format. In fact, I can barely think of any characters that don't succeed (if you can think of any, I'd love to hear them!) But I don't think it's the fact the character succeeds in whatever mission he is she is trying to accomplish that makes us love them. I think it's the journey. I think it's the trying to succeed.

Take Harry Potter to start with. I love Harry Potter, we all know this by now. I read the first book when I was nine years old but I still remember how much I loved it from the very beginning of the book. That was before Harry had fought with Quirrell and Voldemort, and won. At the end of the book (I'm sorry if this is a spoiler, but really, the book has been out for fifteen years, and the book for ten years.... you've had plenty of time to catch up!) Harry succeeds in his mission. He keeps the Philosophers stone safe and Voldemort doesn't manage to kill him. Again.

But we already loved Harry. We cared whether he lived or died, we admired him for his journey in life. (And if you were like me, you were jealous he got to go to magic school.) We loved him for TRYING to figure out who was trying to steal the stone, for risking his life to protect the stone he really knew nothing about. We all knew he would most probably get the stone and live to see another day, so it wasn't the success that we were likely to admire him for. It is the journey. The trying.

In my favourite book of the year, The Tea Rose (Not a YA book, I should add, but a great book nonetheless), the main character doesn't always succeed. Spoiler alert. In fact, it leaves you a little confused. You're sitting there saying "What on earth is going on? She's the main character, she's not supposed to have this much bad stuff happen to her with no sign of good luck on the horizon." But it works. Ultimately, she does succeed (to which you'll release the breath you didn't realise you had been holding for the last 800 pages). Her success though, it's not the reason you would admire her. It's one of them, sure, because she worked very hard for that success, but it's the trying to succeed and the journey she's taken to succeed that makes you love her.

She's one of the strongest female protagonists I've come across, and she's one of my favourite female characters because of her journey. Because of what she overcomes and because she's not afraid to keep trying.

It's an interesting thought to keep in mind when you're writing. It's not the character's successes that makes us really love them, it's their journey.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I like your comments on character. I think we often get caught up in what they do that we don't realize we love them for how they got there. A book is about the entire journey. I think the best characters are those that you can relate to but are also different enough that you want to be them (or at least friends with them).