What makes a fictional character one which survives in people's minds for years and years?
I think the character has to have a quirkiness (Randle McMurphy in Ken Kessey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; the misogynistic, conceited Sherlock Holmes; or any of the supporting characters in books like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series), strong motivation (Inspector Javert's unyielding pursuit of Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables or Captain Ahab's relentless quest for Moby Dick), or in some way personifies the human condition in a way in which readers can relate (any of Dicken's characters - Bob Cratchett, a father trying desperately to provide for his family at Christmas; Oliver Twist, a homeless orphan; Miss Havisham, the bitter, jilted spinster).
For me it's the drama they had went through and if you can relate to their struggle and hardship. That's what make a character stands out.
Each of my three women have hidden secrets and they tried their best to keep it from their family,friends and the world. But we know secrets are bound to come out.
From a readers point of view, for me anyway, there has to be some resonance with the character, for instance Jeffrey Deavers character Lincoln Rhyme. A quadriplegic criminalist who through the series of books he appears in th ereader comes to view as a friend. The reader gets to know him like a friend, gets to know his foibles and beghins to understand how he will react to a given set of circumstances. I read the Lincoln Rhyme books out of order as it were which is fine because each is a stand along novel in its own right. However throughout the books there is the novel itself and also the ongoing life of Rhyme. I am now about to revisit them in the order in which they were written !
For me it is any number of traits and none in particular...but a character must feel plausible, real and you can sort of see yourself or someone you know in at least aspects of the character. Well, unless the depth is just pure evil! But yeah, seems real enough, I think that is the key.
I think you need to care about the character, whatever they do, be it good or bad. If you don't care one way or another, then why would you bother reading about them? For the character to last for years then he/she has to do something exceptional or have a personality that can't be ignored
One of my central characters is deeply flawed and does some despicable acts, but he is certainly not one dimensional. There are aspects to the character that partly go to explain why he does what he does. Hopefully, he will make the reader want to continue turning the page anyway
I think the reader has to identify with the character on a human level, even if the character isn't necessarily human. One of my favorite characters is Lestat from Anne Rice's novels. He resonates so much for me because he is flawed and Rice makes his heartbreak palpable and honest. She did such a wonderful job creating a character with enough depth to carry her many Vampire Chronicles novels, and quite frankly, my favorite ones involved Lestat. I also loved Katniss in the Hunger Games series because she is flawed, but courageous. She beats almost insurmountable odds at a heavy cost to herself and her family, but she manages to persevere through it all. We feel her joys and heart aches. We worry about her in a way that we would worry about a friend. I couldn't put any of those books down. I also love Sam in Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. As far as characters in more classic type books, Emma, in Jane Austen's famous book of the same name is so likable, you want to be her bff. A brilliant study of character is in The Book Thief, where the character, Death, is the narrator and the author actually makes us sympathize with him and what he sees during the Nazi rule of Germany. Even the awful Macbeth is a wonderful character! I do like villains, too. They are the most fun to write, I think, and I've watched enough talk shows to know that most actors like to play the villain once in awhile. What all of these characters have in common is that the author has captured the human condition so well, that we think about their characters as people instead of just scribbles on a page.
I think there is a symbiotic relationship between the character and the story. No matter how appealing the character is, if the story is boring or does not work, the character will not be memorable. Take for example, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is an unusual character to say the least, but the reason that he is memorable is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle captured his character within a series of great stories. That said, a memorable character is also three dimensional. He or she will have human failings, insights and difficulties common to all human beings. Look back at the great historical fictional characters like Achilles and you find these attributes, such as a quarrelsome individual within a hero. Merlin is another character like that. One of the best stories of Robin Hood is the time Friar Tuck dumps Robin into the stream.
I have always thought a good fictional charater has to do with how the author writes about him and her. Strong story lines that grab you and bring you into the story helps a lot.
Judge Holden, from Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian.
The Judge (as he is referred to in the novel) is a seven-foot bald albino with expertise in languages, law, history, biology and biology. In the novel he joins a gang of criminals who have been contracted to scalp native Indians during the Spanish civil war. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that he likes to murder children, and that he might not be human.
After I read this novel, I had nightmares that he was waiting outside my house to kill my family. This is a quote from the judge "'Whatever exists,' he said. 'Whatever exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.'"
I think the character has to be complex. In order for a character to be really memorable, the author has to make them flawed and deeply human. I think that's why characters like Austen's Emma or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina resonate so strongly with readers. These characters struggle to identify their flaws and live with the consequences of their mistakes in a way to which readers can relate. I think part of this dynamic is the back-and-forth on how these characters view themselves versus how they really are as revealed by the author.
My best characters infest my girlfriend's head, giving her multiple personality disorder. If that helps. You'll know they're memorable when they take over your life and begin to appear in the real world.
Hope that helps...This book has several very memorable characters, and is set in the Douglas Adams universe:
Keith, that is good advice.