What makes a strong character?

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Eddyz Aquila

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I hope it's not that much of a curious question, to put it like that, but I just had a conversation with three of my friends who don't read that often and each time when I asked them about characters they had interesting replies, at least to my mind. I asked them about literary and commercial novels, not just one side of the coin. Their answers:

1. A strong character is someone who can solve whatever problem he/she is faced with despite the incredible obstacles.
2. A strong character is one I can identify with all the time.
3. A strong character is a most flawed being who can overcome those flaws.

Their answers made me go back home and think for around twenty minutes what actually makes one. The answers I got are very different and I disagreed more or less with all of them but here I come to ask:

What makes a strong character in your opinion?
I'll chime in later with my own opinions but I want to hear your thoughts on this. :)
 

AEFerreira

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A strong character (for me) has an element of familiarity or archtype that taps into the feelings that are already there in my heart, while also being suprising and unique to unearth new, untapped aspects of those feelings. There is definately tension between universality and uniqueness.

A good character is also seamless. Their personality is not a patchwork of obvious traits; maybe I can't always answer specifically what their "flaw" is (or it could be debated with many right answers!), but as the reader I just intuitively feel like I know how they would react to a situation. Even when the character does something suprising there is still a sense of inevitability after the fact, a sense of "yes, that really is what they would have done."
 

Maxinquaye

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When I try to figure out a character there's a number of things I want to know. I want to know their core values to begin with.

Say you want to write about a nobleman in medieval Europe. What defines this nobleman? Most often pride. If that's all you have, then it's going to be a one dimensional character, and not a strong one.

Is there anything else that defines him? Maybe he's the youngest of three sons, and he suffers from an inferirity complex. Hmm. This would make a proud man with a need to prove himself to others. He'd be reckless and dangerous.

What else defines him then? He's a clansman, raised to be unflinchingly loyal. Now we have a reckless proud man that has to keep a tight reign on himself or risk others.

Nice.

Now we plop him down in a clan strife where he can win lots af glory if he's forceful, but where each misstep can lead to his clan seeing him as a traitor. In that context, this character becomes a strong one.

If you look at him at another time, when none of his values are challenged he's a weak character.

So... it all depends... :)
 

Kaiser-Kun

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I found the answer in the comic book Empowered: It's easy to be brave when you have superpowers. A really strong person will face danger with wit, training, teamwork, and improvisation.
 

ceenindee

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Strong character as in personality? Or strong character as in well-written? Because I think you can definitely have a passive character who's still strong in the second sense. I like believability more than anything.
 

sunandshadow

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I assume we're defining 'strong character' to mean a character who makes for a powerful and memorable reading experience? Because that's quite different from a person who has 'strength of character'.

The characters I find most moving and memorable to read about do have some of the traits mentioned above: they are interesting and I identify with them. They are interesting partly because I identify with them, but mainly because they are passionate and because at first they are a mystery, then as the book progresses I come to understand their inner logic like the finely structured gears and springs in a watch. The are memorable because their interestingness makes me wish I could interact with them and makes me imagine doing so; this imagining gives the character a bit of independent life and symbolic value in my mind.

So, a strong character is a character the reader wants to take and make their own. This ties in to the comment about archetypes; an archetype is a general type of character that many people have over the centuries taken and used outside of the context of whatever stories they originated in. I don't think familiarity is a necessary ingredient, because I remember how powerful it was to discover an archetype I was unfamiliar with for the first time.
 

Danthia

Someone who is intriguing in some way, has an interesting problem they need to solve, the drive to try and resolve it, and a reason for readers to want to see it resolved. Beyond that, the sky's the limit.

Which I know isn't really helpful. But there are so many aspects that go into a character that ten writers can create ten utterly different characters and they can all be strong characters. And readers will also have their personal preference about what a "strong character" means.
 

RobJ

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1. A strong character is someone who can solve whatever problem he/she is faced with despite the incredible obstacles.
2. A strong character is one I can identify with all the time.
3. A strong character is a most flawed being who can overcome those flaws.
I think that's quite a good list for a bunch of casual readers.
 

maestrowork

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Strength comes from different places. A character may be strong by being resilient to adversities (Edmund Dantes). A character may be strong for having strong opinions (Elizabeth Bennett). A character may be strong for taking charge and becoming a leader (Indiana Jones)...

But in most cases, a strong character almost ALWAYS take charge of their destinies and DO something. They don't just sit there and wait for something to happen. They don't accept fate without doing something about it. They may be calm, understanding, loving, peaceful people (that is, they don't have to be abrasive or aggressive, like Scarlett), but they're not victims in their minds. Edmund Dantes may be a victim of a heinous betrayal, but he never believes he should just accept his fate and die. He tries to escape. He tries everything. And when he does, he immediately plans his revenge.

A strong character and a 3D character are two different things, so a strong character doesn't have to be "flawed" etc. But when you have both a strong and 3D character, what you have is a MEMORABLE character. All of the characters mentioned in this thread are memorable because they are strong and flawed.
 

nessam

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Someone I can relate to...
Can I relate to their problems
or their feelings
or ideals

Just find something for me to care about and build the rest as a unique individual. I don't want to read about me but I also want to connect on some level. A character who has no flaws is not human and if they are not actually human tell me why they are interesting to a human.
 

Alpha Echo

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I think a strong character may make plenty of mistakes, but he/she learns from them.

As everyone else said, I can relate to them - but this doesn't mean I have to agree with them. My husband and I have been watching The Sopranos, for example - I hate that Tony cheats on his wife, I don't like what he does, but for some reason, I can understand his thoughts and emotions, wants and needs. I end up rooting for him even though I know he's supposed to be a bad guy.
 
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