What makes a great character? The Elizabeth Bennetts, the Scarlett O’Haras, the Harry Potters…What is it that captivates the audience and molds those characters into literary history?
My official conclusion: it’s the quirks. There must be something unique about the character that sticks in your mind. The stereotypical characters are quickly forgotten. But when it is a stereotypical character with something so unforgettable, he or she becomes exactly that. Unforgettable.
One of my favorite examples: Violet from Lynn Austin’s A Proper Pursuit.
This Christy-Award winning book is full of rich historical detail surrounding the 1893 Chicago World Fair, but what makes it a truly beautiful read is the characters.
We’ve got the adventurous, vivacious Violet, who goes to live with her Grandmother in Chicago to avoid a dull suitor at home. With the help of her Grandmother and three great-aunts, she ends up with three more suitors – the evangelist, the handsome rich boy, the traveling salesman who isn’t exactly what he seems.
Each character has something memorable: Birdie, one of her great-aunts, is stuck in 1860s and waiting for her husband to return from the war. Maddie, another great-aunt, is boisterous for women’s rights after a broken engagement tainted her views on marriage.
But it is Violet I really love.
After years in a finishing school, she seeks escape in detective novels that a proper girl should not read. And her favorite past time? Asking questions, such as: “If you had to choose, would you rather be a butterfly or firefly?” “If you had to choose poverty with the one you love or wealth to someone you don’t love, which would you pick.”
How her suitors respond to her hypothetical queries reveal more to their characters and her own. Pure character building genius.
You tell me – what makes a great character in your eyes? Any good examples?