What makes a good character? It has to be one that people remember long after they have finished reading the book, playing the game or watching the movie. I will focus on the fictional character in general, medium aside. Luke Skywalker is good example of a memorable character, so is Sherlock Holmes, but for completely different reasons. Luke is a supernatural being by the end of the first Star Wars movie. Sherlock doesn’t change much over his stories. Luke grew from a naïve farm boy to a seasoned warrior. Sherlock merely adds another amazing deduction to his list of amazing deductions.
What is it that we find so interesting in these two characters that makes us remember them so well? They are both larger than life heroes, but is that all there is? No, it is also because they both are flawed people. Luke is impetuous and finds himself in trouble because of it, while Sherlock does cocaine, or do I mean heroin? Holmes is memorable because of his flaws, his ego and his cold brilliance.
We are given details of their lives outside the story, in sparing amounts. We know where Holmes lives. Skywalker becomes a military person, with a home wherever he’s posted. We learn that Luke is an orphan, we know nothing of Holmes’ parents, but we do eventually learn that each has at least one sibling, Leia, Luke’s twin and Holmes’ older brother Mycroft.
Are they memorable because we know a little about them? I don’t think so. We actually know very little about Holmes, most of what is now in the mythos about him, outside of his stories, has been deduced from little clues placed in the books. We are told a lot about Luke’s life outside of his story. So why are these two characters so memorable? I think it is because we like and admire them. They are presented in such a way as to appear as real living people. That’s what makes characters memorable, how real they seem. We don’t remember the cardboard cutout characters from the more boring books or movies we have read or seen.
Flaws add a touch of reality to characters. No one in the world is all good or all evil, which means that fictional characters shouldn’t be either. Adding a few bad habits or even some annoying habits can make a character come to life. Living, breathing people have quirks; fictional people should have them too. Good, memorable characters should have quirks, but they shouldn’t be overpowering quirks. If they are whiners, they shouldn’t whine too much or readers (viewers) will abandon them. Moderation is vital when adding quirks to fictional characters.
Memorable characters are characters with problems, quirks and flaws. Without those ingredients, the character is flat, lifeless and dull. Who would want to know flat, lifeless dull fictional people? We avoid them in real life and we avoid them in the fictional worlds of books, movies or games. We go for the exciting, lively fictional people that we wish we were ourselves.