Good characters just will not confine themselves to the printed page or the screen! They find ways to slip the coils of ink or pixels and escape, causing all kinds of havoc!
I made this render for my website, but I thought I’d share it here with you. It’s a large panoramic concept of what happens to good characters. They come alive! They take over. They even stick their fingers into your coffee (“It comes in cauldrons?”). Well crafted characters have a four dimensional quality. We think they’re real, and want them to be our next door neighbors (I’d sure want to live next to Tyrion Lannister, Harry Dresden, or Belgarion). Or a million miles away, in the case of some (Joffrey and Darken Rahl come to mind).
I just want to kill Terry Goodkind if he torments Richard and Kahlan one more time! Why? Because he crafted them so well that they are real to me now, and I want them to be happy and have the time to love each other with the intensity that they do, without being separated by yet another prophecy. If they were flat cardboard cutouts, I wouldn’t care if they ever kissed or not, much less lived in harmony. So, I’m cringing at the title of his next book, Severed Souls. At the other end of the spectrum is … uh … that guy who did that thing with the gun … he was so one dimensional and predictable that I can no longer recall his name, much less the book. Probably nine tenths of all characters fall into that latter category, especially with the rise of self-publishing.
Character creation is perhaps the most important part of fantasy, or any fiction for that matter. I’m going to write two words. Atticus Finch. What did you think? How did you feel? Those are the thoughts and emotions conveyed by a well developed four dimensional character. Someone as solid as Atticus Finch can often repair the holes in a story because his personality will determine how the story unfolds. Character driven stories follow the rational responses of characters to events. They control the events, or are destroyed by them. Plot driven stories still require good characters, and often turn upon a particular character’s response as he or she could not possibly react in any other way.
Stephen King believes in creating interesting characters, throwing them into an interesting situation, and just watching how they respond. The sheer success of his stories proves his theory works. He couldn’t do that if his characters were not the types who would jump out of his screen onto his desk and steal his pens.