Developing the right characters can make all the difference in the success of a novel. What do you remember from a favorite novel? The plot? The place? Or the characters? In the plot summary on the back cover, what is mentioned first and foremost? What do you want to see when you read a sequel?
For me, it’s the crazy characters. The mysterious Ranger or hot Joe Marino. And maybe Grandma Mazur with her less-than-normal view of life. I really like Lulu - an ex-prostitute attached to Stephanie Plum on one side, and two buckets of chicken on the other. Nothing is normal about Janet Evanovich’s characters, including Bob, Steph’s bulimic dog. While her characters are wild and crazy, there’s an implied goodness about all of them. We feel safe with them, no matter how questionable their past. We want to pack our bags and follow her characters around, just for the excitement.
Not all characters are as fun-loving as Evanovich’s. Some characters we love to hate. Look at the popularity of daytime soaps. So popular were they, they added soaps to prime-time fare. Dallas was one of the first with an extensive thirteen season run, thanks in-part to its greedy, scheming J.R. Ewing. If you want bizarre characters, look at Dark Shadows, returning with the all-time character actor, Johnny Depp.
Then there is the character we would love to be: the beautiful and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet or the unusually deep Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who would keep us on the edge of our seats with their banter and thoughtful emotions.
While a weak plot cannot overcome all the beauty or cleverness in the world, dull characters can keep you from discovering how clever the plot really is.