I have been thinking about this topic a good bit lately. Interesting characters. Why do we need them? Isn’t it the plot that keeps us coming back? In a sense, yes, it is the plot that keeps us coming back. But, in another sense, no, the plot isn’t what keeps us coming back.
I recently read Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I have enjoyed other works by Lewis, mainly The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, but I had never read The Space Trilogy. So, I thought I would give it a shot. Well, turns out, it was a little bit dull. But, being one who has to finish a book once they start it, no matter what, I persevered. Now it wasn’t the most fun book I’ve ever read, but I kept coming back, not willing to put it down. And I can tell you it wasn’t because of the plot, in fact, I kept holding out for the plot to get better, and it really didn’t. But, the character of Ransom kept me coming back. He was a dynamic character who had some really interesting attributes. This character kept me coming back, even with the lackluster plot.
Another example is my current read, Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Now the plot is amazing, super intricate, and dazzling. It is like nothing I’ve read before. But, the plot may be really good, but it is the character of Vin and Kelsier that keep me coming back. Kelsier is a mysterious character who we keep learning tidbits of information about, which makes him an interesting character to read. We as readers want to know more about him and what he has done, and the little teases fuel the flames of curiosity. The character of Vin is also an interesting character. She has some unique abilities which allow her to do things that people of her status should not be able to do. She is thrown into many unique situations and our curiosity as readers grow as more and more backstory is shown.
So what can we learn from this?
First, I believe that in order for a character to be interesting, they need to be unique. Now, this doesn’t have to be the case for every character ever written. But they need to be unique in some sort of sense. They might be a normal person who works a nine to five job, but a reader isn’t going to read about them working nine to five, they want to read about the thieving that same character does after hours.
Second, interesting characters need to have an interesting backstory. Why does that thief commit robbery? What motivations does he have from his past? The characters that readers don’t care about are the characters who do things with no motivation and no reason. Characters that people care about have had interesting things happen to them and have a good reason for doing things.
Third, the author needs to reveal the bits of information that make up the character’s backstory slowly. If the reader gets all the characters backstory at once, 1) they will get too much information at once with no reason why that information is important, resulting in an info-dump. 2) They won’t have reason to keep reading. If the author skillfully reveals the backstory in small portions, leaving the reader in a sense of suspense. They will want to keep coming back to learn more about the character.
There are many aspects to characters that go into interesting characters. These three points are things that I have noticed lately in my readings in both Mistborn: The Final Empire and Out of the Silent Planet.
From my pen to your paper, may our swords never clash.
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