Why Do We Love the Characters We Do?

It’s no secret that the characters are the most important aspect of YA books. Yes, it’s so much more important that snazzy (does anyone use that word anymore?) brave, new worlds or even a plot (embarrassing, but I have loved books which are absolutely filled with fluff).

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
-Ernst Hemmingway

Characters….Whether it is a Gandalf like wise old mentor, or a butt-kicking heroine like Katniss (or maybe someone more relatable like a female protagonist from any Sarah Dessan book), or a meltingly hot love interest like Raffe from Angelfall, we all know that characters are the bread and butter of a good book.
Sure, a surreal setting or a cute plot is nice to have but ultimately they just form the characters. I guess, you could say they give them the opportunity to shine.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
-Ray Bradbury

Personally, I’ve noticed I have a pattern when it comes to the characters and books I like.
I love it when the main characters (mostly girls, which I know is unfair but it’s just that I find them easier to relate to),are cynical, smart (though not as smart as they think they are) cheeky ,rebellious,a bit dismissive of the people around them and great liars. I love the con-men (or maybe just the con-women), the mercenaries, the pickpockets and the soldiers who don’t necessarily take the orders that are given to them. In other words I like characters that are more black than white on the monochromatic scale of inherent human goodness.

Is it because I can identify with them? Is it because I like seeing these half-villain kind of characters ironically turn into protagonists? Does it keep me hopeful that I’m capable of being a better person? Or perhaps I just like these kind of characters because they’re the ones capable of doing something, anything- and I want to be that kind of person. Maybe it’s just becuase I really appreciate the fact that they refuse to be defined, that they can play a multitude of roles. It’s hard to analyze how much of what comes into play, but a whole bunch of variables go into the making of a character. And just as many go into the liking (or disliking) of these characters.

“I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make you’re brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr.”
-John Green

Examples: Alex from the Ashes trilogy, Katrina from Heist Society, Calaena from the Throne of Glass series, Mare from Red Queen, etc.

For the love-interests, I think the reasons are a whole lot less complex. I like them witty, a little jaded and capable. Confidence is great as long as it’s not arrogance. It’s a lot harder to find love-interests like this in books than you’d think.
Examples: Akiva from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, Jonah Griggs from the Jellicoe Road
And then there are the side characters. These come in huge varieties. You have the totally cliched ones and then you have the ones which are multi-dimensional, insightful, funny and totally human.
Examples: Dee and Dum from Angelfall, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series
When I say I love a book, it’s probably because I can relate very deeply to a character (usually a main character but sometimes a side one too). It’s because I can imagine them floating or walking or jumping out or whatever from the pages of the book. I can see my friends and family in them. I can see myself in them. And sometimes I can see someone who I want to be or someone I used to be in them. That makes it sound like I have a split-personality disorder. I don’t (at least I don’t think I do). But there are several aspects to my character and I love when I can identify a part of myself in another person- or another character.

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.”
― Milan Kundera