“Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, pay attention to the differences between how a character might look on the outside and his or her internal value system. The greater the tension between outside and inside, the more interesting the character.”
– Roy Peter Clark, The Writer, March 2012
“It is the genius of great fiction to reveal the way it feels to be another person. Empathically connecting to experiences of love, hate, despair or joy is one of the major reasons people will pick up your book. But it is important to remember that our feelings are intimately tied to what we think. Anger arises not only because we don’t get what we want, but also because we don’t get what we deserve. Grief comes because we lose something we love, something we think is worth loving. Our most intense feelings are connected to our most deeply held philosophical visions of justice and value. As you develop your characters, show us what they are thinking that contributes to their intense emotions. What makes something valuable ir hateful to them? What do they think they and others deserve in life? Also, what do you think about what they think?”
— Roger S. Gottlieb, The Writer, July 2014
Writers are often told their characters need to be “likeable,” but I think the better term is identifiable. Not that we want to be them — Olive Kitteredge, anyone? — but that we trust such people can exist.
Or as novelist Claire Messud Publisher’s Weekly, “If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘is this character alive?’”