When I was a child, one of my all-time favorite TV shows was Space 1999. Looking back, it was cheesy. But at the time, it was the best thing that ever happened to a little girl. It had everything: action, romance, technology, and an alien named Maya. Oh, wow! What a heroine! Maya could change her shape into whatever the plot called for, anything from an eight-foot-tall acid-breathing monster to a tiny honey bee. Most of the time, the show terrified me, but it was worth it to watch Maya in action.
To make her even better, she was in love with Tony, the best-looking male actor on the set. My girly heart swooned over Tony and couldn’t wait for the next episode to see how Maya and Tony would save the colony (which was on the moon, adrift in space–I did say it was cheesy). When an episode came around that featured some of the other stars being the hero, I was disappointed that Maya and Tony weren’t the ones who saved the day. After all, as the only shapeshifter on the moon, she was the most powerful, most versatile hero on the cast.
(Maya photo courtesy of IMDB. Maya and Tony photo courtesy of wikipedia)
I tried re-watching an episode of Space 1999 last year, just to see if I could recapture that magic I felt as a child. Nope. Total failure. My adult mind was not impressed. Same thing happened when I tried to re-watch The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, and Charlie’s Angels. Those action-packed shows that delighted me when I was young were a major disappointment to me as an adult. But I’ve gotten off track already.
What I wanted to point out was that love of character. It works in books, too. When the reader loves a character, they want more. There’s nothing better than a series of books featuring a beloved main character, especially if you know there’s no end in sight! (It’s frustrating to know that book 4 is the last book, there will never be a book 5, and there’s no talking the author into a book 5 because she signed a contract to do a new series which can’t possibly be as good as the original… but I’m off track again.)
As authors, it’s our job to create the characters that readers will love. It shouldn’t be hard, as we all know what traits we like in our friends: honesty, humor, kindness,
unlimited cash generosity. Our characters should also be intelligent, attractive (not necessary physically), clever, and resourceful. Just like Maya. She also had the whole “mysterious” thing working for her. When the plot goes wonky and the hero is in a sticky jam, she’ll use everything she’s got to get out of it. If it comes too easy, the reader is bored. Maya may be cowering in a corner with a man’s protective arm around her in the photo above, but I guarantee that a few seconds after that shot, she squared her shoulders, got that look in her eye, then kicked some villain booty.
The hero should also have a flaw, some fear or lack of understanding that stands in her way of reaching her objective. Once she conquers her inner flaw, only then will she be able to achieve her outer objective. I can’t remember any flaws Maya had, but if you need an example, just think of Superman. He’s got the whole kryptonite, sentimentality for human life, and love of justice (two of which are not flaws but are used as if they were by the villains out to get Superman).
These few sentences about building great characters shouldn’t be hard to accomplish, yet many people fail to create lovable characters. It takes practice, work, and just a bit of fairy dust to pull it off. Please share your favorite characters (TV or book) from childhood and why you loved them. Knowing what YOU loved in a character helps the rest of us build great characters.