Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week is a freebie and I’m catching up on old prompt: character traits I can’t help but love.
You know the endless question about what matters most: plot, character or world-building? All three, obviously, but for me character is far more important than plot. I don’t have to like a character to love them (although it helps); but I must at least find them interesting if I’m going to get invested. So what easy routes are there to my heart? Quite a few, as it turns out, although I’m horribly inconsistent.
Stubborn as a mule
Their detractors may call them stubborn and mulish; I prefer to praise their steadfast endurance, relentless commitment and brave perseverance. Either way, I am here for women who won’t be told what they can’t do. Telling them what they should do is also generally a bad idea, and I’m here for their response to that too. Whether they’re facing down inequalities, keeping their word or refusing to bend to someone else’s will, these characters have inspired me since I was a kid.
Examples: Alanna of Trebond (Alanna), Jill (the Deverry saga), Egwene al’Vere (The Wheel of Time), Sofia Mendes (The Sparrow), Naomi Nagata (The Expanse), Arya (A Song of Ice and Fire)
My love of this trait is often linked to women burning down the patriarchy, but it plays well from characters of any gender who challenge other structural inequalities – I nearly through Touraine onto this list, before I realised I had a much better fit for her.
One person pile-up
You know exactly who I mean: those characters who are just naturally given to making cascades of terrible, terrible choices that you simply can’t look away from. These aren’t characters I have to like – and I definitely don’t have to want them to succeed, because their goals may be as questionable as their choices – but they’re fascinating.
Examples: Touraine (The Unbroken), Fang Runin (The Poppy War), Hestillion (The Winnowing Flame), Ixkaab Balam (Tremontaine), Cersei Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire)
Motivation is crucial here. Rafe Fenton (Tremontaine) is also given to objectively bad calls, but they’re usually driven by his ego or virago – neither of which are very interesting to me – and consequently he mostly annoys me. Dara (Daevabad) fits this mould but didn’t ring my bells because he’s both controlling and racist, so my allegiances were firmly with his antagonists.
Bookish and deadly
What reader doesn’t love a bookworm? But give me a character who not only adores books – especially one who has very strong opinions about specific (fictional) genres and authors, or who is simply never seen at rest without a book in their hand – who is also the character who can snap you like a twig. That’s it, I’ve melted.
Examples: Jean Tannen (Gentlemen Bastards), Grace (Bookburners)
Hunting themself down
Yes, fine, this is a situation not a character trait, hush. My list, my rules. I go weak for this the way some readers melt at there’s only one bed. It’s even better when the character is a sweetheart who you definitely don’t want to see hurt. How will they wriggle out of it without betraying their natures? I’m here for it.
Examples: Alizayd al Qahtani (Daevabad; also fits bookish and deadly I realise), Asanti (Bookburners), Ryxander (Rooks and Ruin)
Definitely not the good guy
I adore a character who is morally grey, but has a heart of gold or a habit of saving the day in spite of being the one everybody else has a million reasons not to trust. There’s a lot of different ways to play this, but the magic rests on a tightly defined moral code and an ability to cause enormous harm. Hopefully against the enemy, because heaven help you if they turn on you.
Examples: Amos Burton (The Expanse), Asmodeus (Dominion of the Fallen), Murderbot (although once the reasons Murderbot is called Murderbot has been fully explored, they don’t really fit here any more; they’re just a reluctant hero, which is another character trait I love so that’s just peachy)
Pulling all the strings
Give me a master manipulator who has entirely too much influence – whether they use it for good or ill or pure self-interest. I don’t care if they’re the protagonist (a tricky proposition; requires balancing with an exceptional threat), an antagonist (they make brilliant villains) or – appropriately – a force operating behind the scenes to confuse and confound our heroes. It’s all delicious.
Examples: Melisande Shahrizai (Kushiel’s Legacy), Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade), Diane Duchess Tremontaine (Tremontaine, Swordspoint), Petyr Baelish (A Song of Ice and Fire)
This foul-mouthed grandma is too old for your shit
Yes, I know it sounds like I created this category purely for Chrisjen Avasarala (because I did), but the best thing? The very best? Is that she is only one example. This character archetype crops up regularly and however old they may be – and the older the better honestly – they never get old. Stand back and expect them to tear strips off you, it’s what they do best.
Examples: Chrisjen Avasarala (The Expanse), Ah Ma (Black Water Sister), Mak Genggang (Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen), Judith (Witches of Lychford), Edie Banister (Angelmaker)
No keeping them out of trouble
Some characters were simply designed to get into trouble. They’re hot-headed, excitable, have poor impulse control and huge ambitions or a driving cause. They may also be good at getting themselves out of trouble – I don’t love this when it turns into ‘always needs rescuing’, so requires a strong dose of ingenuity, charm and the ability to turn bad situations to their advantage. The trick is to avoid them seeming bulletproof or turning into a Mary / Gary Stu.
Examples: Princess Eilonwy (The Chronicles of Prydain), Isabella & Audrey Camherst (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Turning Darkness Into Light), Abigail (Rivers of London)
I really should be able to think of some male characters who fit here, but I’ve gone blank. Help me out?
Easy distracted by a good cause
There’s a really fine line between a character who can’t resist championing a cause and a white knight. I’m not even sure where that line it, but James Holden isn’t who I’m reaching for – he’s too self-righteous. No, while these characters are all about doing the right thing by other people, there’s no ego in play. They may even apologise for getting involved. They may rapidly get themselves into trouble, but they probably won’t hesitate. They’re just good eggs who care deeply about other people and rarely stop to consider any consequences for themselves.
Examples: Prince Kiem (Winter’s Orbit), Thara Celehar (The Witness For The Dead), Phèdre no Delaunay (Kushiel’s Legacy) – and yes, I’m 50/50 on whether this should be Phèdre or Joscelin, but he too has that self-righteous streak that is so hard to swallow.
Playing their flaw to the hilt
Every now and again, I look at a story sideways and see it as a roleplaying game (The Walking Dead is a prime example). Occasionally, a character does something – or has something happen to them – that seems a bit random until I consider it in the context of wanting extra points to spend during character generation, so they took a flaw – and now it’s come back to haunt them. Or (even better) they’ve just run with it, much to the consternation of the other gamers who would probably rather not have to deal with this drawback right now, actually. I love a good flaw; and I adore a character whose flaws come to the source – especially in ways that may not be immediately plot-relevant (and definitely not plot convenient).
Examples: Vintage de Grazon’s clumsiness (and yes, I should be able to think of more but this morning has got away from me and it’s past time I hit Publish so that’s it for now!)
Do you have any favourite character traits?