So, thanks to Lyla at Read By Flashlight, I discovered The Great Blogging Experiment with enough time to participate in it!
The prescribed topic is Writing Compelling Characters, which, I think, is a beautiful topic.
Much has been said on various blogs and in all sorts of books concerning what makes a character compelling. There are some things that certainly help make a compelling character, and while I agree with many aspects, there is a part of me that rebels at formula.
I think that in many cases, a better question to ask is why we dislike certain characters, often without a solid reason for doing so.
My belief: we hate these characters because we suspect that underneath all the description, the character isn't a real person.
I'm not talking about the author. The author is certainly real, but is the character that the author has written real to the author? Does the writer believe that this character could very well exist, and is a valuable and interesting person? And most importantly, does the author not take that fact for granted?
We love characters either because we believe they could exist, or because we wish that they did.
Yes, characters can be unbelievable, but they have the unbelievability that real people have. Have you looked at real people recently? Have you noticed the people in your own life who, when it boils down to it, are unbelievable? We admire great and compelling characters for much the same reason we admire great and compelling people: because they have the audacity to exist as themselves.
But there's another step between real characters and compelling characters. There are some characters that are perfectly believable, but we still hate them because we feel these characters latching onto us with greedy fingers and pulling at us, sucking up our attention and our enthusiasm like a sponge, with no recompense. Yes, we hate them because they give us nothing. We read to gain. We are willing to sacrifice our time and attention with the understanding that we will get something in return. A compelling character is one that accepts the reader's sacrifice, and gives back even more than what was expected. More heart, more interest, more honesty, more of that audaciously thrilling reality -- so that even when the book is done, we remember the character as if they had been in the same room with us.
This isn't an exhaustive guide, of course. But I believe this is the starting point.