We’ve all watched or read stories about good vs. evil, hero vs. villain, good cop vs. bad cop, and we usually tend to empathize with the most compelling character. Note that I didn’t say the good guy, I said compelling.
Today I was asked to describe what a compelling character meant to me. My answer was brief, yet to the point:
The most compelling characters are those who appear internally consistent and yet are capable of surprise. They have to be well-developed and reliable. They learn, and sometimes, change from experiences they have encountered and endured throughout the story. In order to create gripping characters, a good writer explores and finds what motivates these characters to do or say certain things. My mentor always told me that a believable character must have a driving need, desire, ambition or goal; a secret; a contradiction; and vulnerability. This will avoid crafting a flat or two-dimensional character. Whether these characters are the heroes or the villains, the reader will empathize with them. When reading, the characters seem to be in front of us. We get to know them so well that we feel a sense of loss by the time we finish reading the book. In other words, when we read, we are supposed to live vicariously through these characters.
What about you? Who do you usually empathize with? What’s your idea of a compelling character?