When I say characters, I don't mean the sometimes charming and sometimes not-so-charming eccentrics who populate my beloved city, instead I mean fictional characters.
I enjoy just about everything more when I am involved, a participant. So at some point, as an avid reader, I had to try my hand at fiction. I've written a chunk of my story, but the characters are flat and not well motivated. I have an idea what one looks like -- Maureen O'Sullivan. Adorable, right?!
Okay, one step at a time.What characters do I find interesting and why? One that comes to mind is Cardinal Chang from The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. He has had a rough life. He was injured and disfigured years before. He is clever and has devised strategies to be a success in his profession as a mercenary despite his handicaps. And despite his dubious profession, he is motivated by a noble cause -- to rescue a woman who showed him kindness. I became a bit obsessed by the character and the other characters paled in comparison. I found the book a bit tedious until he appeared.
Today I was thinking, why didn't the other characters in the book interest me in the same way? They were ordinary people trapped in a bad situation. They also had to be clever and not only survive, but discover the plot driving the people trying to kill them. I should be able to relate to these characters and therefore root for them, but they didn't have a noble cause; they simply used their wits to escape from a situation they somewhat carelessly stumbled upon. I could relate to them perhaps, but I didn't have the respect for them that I felt for the Chang character.
The another that come to mind is Valentin St. Cyr from David Fulmer's mystery series.
The setting, New Orleans, and time, 1907, definitely interests me, but Valentin is another example of a clever mercenary (private detective in this case) who is a success despite his flaws and rough past. Hum, I'm sensing a pattern. Am I simply attracted to intelligent, solemn, and damaged detectives? I think that's a yes. The third character that came to mind is another detective. Jane Tennison is a police detective who has to use her wits to solve crime while battling the "boys club."
Her major flaws are in reaction to the stress of her job and her obsession with her work. I see the pattern, it's a certain kind of respect. Certainly, I respect the happy, content person who is a success through intelligence and hard work, but their struggle doesn't excite my emotions. These three characters -- Chang, Valentin, and Jane -- inspire my respect because they solved puzzles under the most stressful of circumstances that few others could solve. They were almost consumed by the hunt for the solution. They sacrifice to crack the mystery and save the day. That really kicks me in the gut.
Next steps? Sitting down and fleshing out many more background details on my characters. Give them character; give them personality and background that would incite my emotions and make me root for their success.