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Strong Character

We have all seen it: a book that comes out of nowhere and hits every shelf in every store, even those who don’t typically sell books. JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, etc. I have said on many levels that I do not want to be one of these writers. Why, you say? Because they are here and gone. I wonder how satisfying a short career could really be…although maybe if you are a super-duper millionaire then who cares? Anyway, I was thinking about the newest sensation “The Hunger Games.” I started thinking. What makes a book a huge success?

I am in the beginning stages of my third book in the Atlantis series (let me take a moment for my old self to chastise my new self for writing a series!) I am at that stage of plotting a story line. I fight and think and fight and think until all of a sudden something clicks in my brain. I can almost physically feel the snap that takes place as dominos fall and wheels turn. It’s at that moment I know the pre-writing is done and I’m ready to dive into a story. Trying to teach someone my process would be downright impossible unless I really thought about it, but I started to apply the question above to my own work. What makes it work when other ideas don’t?

While plot, action, character and marketing all play into the success of a book, I will contend that character development is the number one push for driving a book from being good to being a sensation. Ever the English major, I have come up with a few defenses for my theory. First, Bella Swan. What had captured me about this book was not only the fact that the girl fell in love with a vampire, but that she was in many ways just like me: clumsy, plain looking, and down to earth. Second Katniss Everdeen. Who would care that this girl was placed into an arena to the death if we didn’t care about her? She’s a girl who didn’t know what she wanted out of life, out of love, but showed saved her sister and had to grow up quickly in such crazy circumstances. She was a strong character I could only dream of being. Who would care about Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter if it weren’t for such a strong character? What would The Three Musketeers be without Athos, Porthos, and Aramis? I contend The Pirates of The Caribbean movies would be nothing without Jack Sparrow (I know, I know, that’s a movie, but still worth mentioning).

I think an author’s job is to sucker us as readers into caring for these fictional characters. They need to be someone we could envision being…or perhaps dream of being. They have to be real and enriching in some way. Otherwise, why bother spending countless hours reading about them? Who cares if they explore France, date vampires or do anything? I can only hope my Nicias of Gaea and Pandora will capture my readers just as much as the great characters before them.