Is it a problem when a writer has favorite characters in her own work?

It's fine to give out the "Favorite Character" award, as long as you don't let that weaken your writing.

It’s fine to give out the “Favorite Character” award, as long as you don’t let that weaken your writing.

Everyone has favorite characters in the books they read…. I have always been a huge fan, among others, of:

  • Jean Valjean, Les Miserables
  • Marius Pontmercy, Les Miserables
  • Remus Lupin, the Harry Potter series
  • Sir Gawain, The Once and Future King
  • Jane Bennett, Pride and Prejudice
  • Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve never been surprised that I have favorite characters in my own work as well. I always figured that I would, I can’t deny that I do, and to be honest, I don’t think any author could deny that with a straight face. I’ve always loved my children characters, in the books that feature children, and I really admire characters who can confront suffering and opposition with courage, grace, and poise.

One interesting thing to consider, as a writer, is to what degree we should foster “favorites” among our working cast. Does there come a point where playing favorites becomes a problem? I don’t really think so, except for a few specific circumstances that occurs to me as I’m writing this. Generally, I think having favorites is a good thing. You should be rooting for someone, and invested in the characters you’re working with, after all. Just be careful….

  1. Don’t under-develop characters who aren’t your favorites. It’s easy, and fun, to flesh out the characters we connect with. The characters we’d like to have a cup of coffee with. It’s harder to lavish that kind of attention on characters we’re not as fond of, but remember: your favorite characters won’t be your readers’ favorite characters. My readers have different lives than me, and different opinions. Their values are different. I try not to rob them of the chance to connect with a secondary character just because I don’t like him or her that much. (I made this mistake in early drafts of “The Crimson League” where Ranler, the League’s thief, is concerned. I developed him more in editing and threw more focus on the characteristics I respected about him: his bravery, his protective nature concerning those he cares about, the fact that he does have a moral code he lives by. I still don’t feel I do Ranler all the justice he deserves, but I improved the situation, and I’m proud of that.)
  2. Always give characters you don’t like a chance to impress you. To change your mind about them. Really delve into their motivations. Give them every chance you can think of to impress you, and let them pull their weight in your novel (whether that’s a lot or a little). Don’t shove them off into the background because you’d rather someone else have the spotlight. Consider whether they deserve a spot in this scene or that one…. If your characters don’t end up changing your mind, that’s not a problem; you gave them a shot. You gave them the role they deserve, ensuring other people will be able to find them appealing, because they have substance. And hey, you never know: maybe those pesky characters you can’t relate to at the start really will change your mind, and show you aspects of themselves you didn’t realize were there at first glance.
  3. Don’t assume everyone will like the characters you do. In other words, don’t take for granted that people will fall in love with your hero or heroine off the bat just because you like him or her. Remember, your characters–every one of them–has to earn the sympathy, goodwill, and respect of your readers. Your favorite characters should have failings and personality flaws, and your readers need a reason to care about and root for these people in spit of those.

6 responses to “Is it a problem when a writer has favorite characters in her own work?

  1. I think it’s natural for authors to have favorite characters in their own books, but #1 seems to be the biggest obstacle that they face. I have read many books that fell flat simply because one character was perfectly developed and the others were left two-dimensional. Always a disappointment!

  2. Great information. I am editing my book right now and I am really diving into all my characters to make sure I have treated them equally.

  3. Pingback: I play favorites with my characters. And they share some things…. | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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