Before we get started I’d like everyone to take a knee. Empress of Procrastination coming through.
In my defense, it’s near the end of the semester and last night I spent about two and a half hours on a Leonardo da Vinci Prezi that still isn’t even close to finished. But enough about college issues! April Round Robin time has come, and the topic—if you choose to accept it—is this: What glues you to a story start to finish? And/Or what hooks do you use to capture your readers?
Hence the title of this post. Take Antonio, a character in a book. He...is good. Antonio is good. He sings in the shower. He always pays his cell phone bill on time. He plays with puppies. He's good.
Then comes Dante. He is good, also. However, when Dante's under a lot of stress, sometimes he's not so good. Maybe he's willing to do illegal things in order to support his family. However, then he flees from police because he's afraid, but in the end he chooses the right thing.
Police chases aside, who's more interesting: Antonio, or Dante? See what I'm getting at? What glues me to a story?
And….BACKSTORY! CHARACTERS! MULTIFACETED CHARACTERS WITH EXCELLENT, PLAUSIBLE BACKSTORY THAT SUPPORTS THEIR PRESENT ACTIONS!
It sounds simple, but here's the rub: it can be the greatest, most imaginative adventure ever thought up, but if I’m sitting here hoping, praying that the main character takes a nosedive onto the nearest fatally pointy object, I’ll put that book down and never deign it with eye contact again. What’s worse, almost, is when there’s a beautifully written character you adore. Say it’s a villain. She’s creepy, and violent, and witty, but…what’s her motivation? Suddenly you're clutching your book and feeling kind of annoyed. Has she ever given a reason for why she’s doing these things? Why is she so violent? Has the main character ever done something to royally tick her off or does he just have something she needs? Is she just plain psycho?
(Usually, psycho can be great. Think Misery by Stephen King. But it has. To make. Sense. Crazy evil is such a cheap way to go about villains. *squints at whole line of authors who bow their heads in shame*)
I’ve got to love the characters. Admire them. Scorn them. UNDERSTAND THEM. A gorgeous setting and gem of a plot are fantastic too, but I’ve got to miss the characters when I close the book. In my own stories, I’ve got to want them to succeed 1,000,005%. I want people to hiss through their teeth whenever the villain does something awful…but also to tear up when they learn why she does what she does. I want the characters to be real. If there's a hero, he's got to have an ugly side and can’t always know what to do. Nobody’s valiant and kind 24/7. In the book I'm writing currently, there's a character who sort of straddles the fence between good and bad. He says the most horrible things but it's because his own life was ruined by people he considered friends. He's horrible while at the same time he can be fatherly and kind. This isn't Disney. (Though I love Disney!) One-note won't do it. I want complicated.
Oooh, fun question: what's the best written character you've read? Or, fave character? :)
Other authors figuring out how to glue books and hook readers: