What makes a great character in fiction?

I love books that give me rich, real characters. They must appear as breathing, walking, talking people who live on the page. Do not give me plastic, shallow clichés, please.

Let us take, for example, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s singular masterpiece. Is he an ordinary man engaged in an extraordinary act? Is he an extraordinary man doing what such men do? Is he a simple smalltown lawyer, an easy-going, unobtrusive gentleman hoping to raise his kids well and survive as a single father?

Yes. To all of those, yes. He is a rich, deep character for which we as readers can peel back layer after layer.

Here are some more of my favorite characters:

Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Alessandro Giuliani, the World War I vet from Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War.

Hawkeye from James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

Owen Meany, the diminutive but strong protagonist in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s series of thriller novels.

Myron Bolitor from Harlan Coben’s series of mystery-thrillers.

Odd Thomas from Dean Koontz’s multi-book series.

George Smiley from John Le Carre’s Cold War spy thrillers.

These are just a few, but each of them offers a rich emotional and intellectual depth that brings them to life. What do they look like? I don’t know. I don’t care. How they look is not something that grabs most readers by the throat and compels them to learn more about the characters. We want to know what really makes them tick.

As an author, I seek to create just such characters. Readers will judge whether I’ve succeeded, but early feedback for Forgive Me, Alex looks positive.

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2 responses to “What makes a great character in fiction?

  1. I’ve read Forgive Me, Alex and I believe you succeeded 100%!

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