In the introduction to this seminar, I mentioned what a reviewer said about one of my characters--Dalton, from WHERE DANGER HIDES. Romance fans will drool over Dalton and his fellow camo-clad helicopter-riding commandos as they look for runaways and love.
What makes a reader love a character? You want your lead characters to have qualities the reader can identify with. The most common traits readers (and authors) think make a good hero are: Courage, Intelligence, and Honor. You want your reader to believe that in a similar situation, they'd have the courage to respond the way your character does.
For characters to become real, there must be internal conflict. A character must want something, however trivial, on every page. Are you ever completely content, and if so, for how long? That needs to come through in your characters.
Your character should also have the same wants and needs that your readers do: The need to be loved, to succeed, to survive, to be free, to right wrongs, and self-expression. And by throwing obstacles in your character's path, you allow them to react, and the way they react is what's going to create those connections with readers.
Although I don't follow the hero's journey when I'm writing (afraid of all that structure), in both of the following examples, the hero has been thwarted from doing something he wants to do, and he's faced with the choice of accepting the challenge. Characters should always be faced with choices. To be compelling, Deb Dixon says the choices must be between it sucks and it's suckier.
In WHERE DANGER HIDES, for personal reasons he's never revealed to anyone, Dalton wants to get back in the field and find a drug lord who's been evading him for years. Why can't he? Because his boss thinks he's becoming too reckless in his quest for this goal, endangering his life and the lives of his team. So first, Dalton has to work with a woman who runs a homeless shelter, and find people she claims are missing. Only then will his boss let him go back in the field. Of course, along the way, he will have to make new choices, and he'll find that his wants and needs are changing.
In WHAT'S IN A NAME? Blake wants to achieve his own personal measure of success: a promotion at his job, with its corresponding salary. He's been poor and never wants to go there again. But his boss saddles him with the task of pretending to be a handyman—the very job he left home to avoid. Of course, along the way, he, too will have to make more choices, and discover that his wants and needs have changed as well.
And this is important. Your character can't be the same at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. The choices your character makes will tie directly into the plot. And as your character grows, the choices he makes will likely change as well. The reader should assume that if the character isn't growing, then the choices he makes will be the wrong ones.
We'll talk more about choices next time. Meanwhile, who are some characters you love. And why do you love them? It's not because they're drop-dead gorgeous, I'm sure.