This evening my family were playing a game called ‘Who Am I?’
You each wear a cardboard headband into which sits a card with the name of someone famous on it. You get to ask questions in turn about the identity of your person, with everyone else answering with yes or no.
Well that is the idea.
My family struggle with simply answering yes or no – which is probably just as well or my youngest son would still be trying to identify Madonna.
Anyway, my wife and eldest son were the last in the game with their respective literary great characters.
Both characters have undoubtedly been given longevity through film and tv adaptations, but both are still widely read in book form.
My wife’s character has been around for 130 years, and my son’s character has been around for 63 years.
Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are literary and cultural giants, but I guarantee that their authors had no idea they would grow into their current gravitas. Both are more than a little irascible and almost dare the reader to like them and if not then they don’t really care.
So what makes a great character? I am sure there are formulas and rules and lists to tell you, but how many of them would have let Harry Potter and his twig past the starting gate? I wouldn’t have. If your wizard isn’t carrying a staff and a sword and standing on a narrow bridge bellowing ‘You shall not pass!’ at a primeval creature then you simply aren’t a wizard.
Sherlock Holmes and James Bond may seem to exist outside of their original circumstances, but neither are what they are today without the stories into which they arrived in our consciousness.
If you want to write a character which will stand the test of time then it needs to be one which perfectly fits the tale you are trying to tell.
Sherlock Holmes needed to be smarter than the crimes people were committing in society, but he didn’t need to be the friend of the people who came to him for help.
James Bond needed to be the determined blunt instrument who never stopped to counter the ingenious plans of those who threatened the world.
Don’t write your characters to be famous in 63 or 130 years time, but write characters which are what they need to be for your story to be successful, and then in 63 or 130 years time . . .