As a writer, I ask myself this question more times that I care to admit while creating the lead and then with every sentence I put on the page. So here are a few answers I've come up with:
1) An active lead- So many times I find that when I'm reading I'm yelling at the lead character to react. Can you think of at least three examples when a character's feet have suddenly been rooted into place when they should have gone after so-and-so or when they've had too many questions floating around in their head to ask one or when they've been in to some sort of trouble and relied on someone else to get them out of it? Characters that don't move, that don't act at crucial times are boring and I don't want them. They most actively move in their environment and be willing to get their hands a little dirty. That is essential for me.
2) Confidence- I'm not talking about someone who knows they are God's gift to earth. All I'm asking is for a character that doesn't second guess every move they make. Because frankly, that gets a little annoying. I want a character that is able to make decisions confidently even if they are the wrong ones. I'm not even saying this needs to be in place the entire novel but by the end of the book, I'd better see some!
3) A little faith- This one drives me crazy, especially in paranormal novels. I don't want to spend 100 pages of a 300 page novel with a character who refuses to believe in anything. I know that the paranormal is often times hard to believe but I hate it when I have to read "no, this isn't real" a million times over. And I really, really hate it when the lead refuses to hear another character out who may have answers because of their lack of faith.
4) Intelligence- I am not the type of reader that will forgive a lead for going to investigate a noise in a woods they know is haunted if they don't have the skill set to defend themselves. I will let a poor judgement slide if the character admits to being stupid, but only once. Otherwise, I want characters who use that thing between their ears to reason out alternatives.
5) Hope- I don't mind a pessimistic character but by the middle of the book, I want to see even that type of character realize that there is hope for a better future. Nothing is worse than a lead who is always down on themselves and refuses to see any light. Even if it's just a glimmer, I want a lead to dream.
These five ingredients are essential for me to fall in love with a main character. So many times we see character who don't seem to have much personality outside what is going on. They are left open intentionally so that it's easy for the reader to fill in themselves in their place. Or the love interest tells the reader that the lead is special without the reader ever really getting to see it themselves. For me, I'd much rather step into the shoes of someone completely different than me if they have the above elements so that I can know them.
So this is my list of must-haves for main characters. Some novel's that have great leads are:
I want to know what you think. What makes a lead character great?
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Next week's question: Doing know authors through their blogs and Twitter accounts make you more excited for their books or does it have the opposite affect?