For many of us the lure of a great book lies in its characters, or as MLK Jr. put it, the ‘content of their character.’ Solid world-building and intriguing plots go a long way toward engaging your audience. But at the end of the day, it’s the characters inhabiting that world, the people driving the plot that will keep your audience engaged.
A dynamic character instantly draws you in and keeps you invested.
While she may—and should—have a great ‘arc’ throughout the story, and have learned some vital nugget of truth about the world or herself by the end, it is her introduction that matters most, because this will determine if readers will stay with her or not.
One of the all-time greatest character-crafters was Charles Dickens. His books positively abound with dynamic people. They were all unique, distinct from each other, and they brimmed with intriguing peccadilloes and personalities. I remember he even infused a mule with personality, so that the mule made me laugh and feel for its plight.
Most impressive of all is Dickens’ ability to write compelling characters within 1 paragraph of their introduction. All it took were a few well crafted sentences, which included: an apt description of her physical appearance (this often included some deformity in his villains), an odd vocal trait that made her stand out, or a powerful belief that infiltrated her every thought, tainting or ennobling her words.
When introducing the Artful Dodger, Dickens swiftly draws an image of a flamboyant street urchin ‘—as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see . . . with all the airs and manners of a man. All decked out in clothes much too large for him — not to mention that huge fantastic hat — He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers—’
With that 1 paragraph we discover the Artful Dodger’s height, bedraggled appearance (which is, as we learn later, also a metaphor about his nature), his manners, financial situation (poor enough to have to wear men’s clothing that do not fit him), his confident attitude through the use of the excellent descriptor ‘swaggering’, and that he wears a huge fantastic hat, telling us that he is fond of ostentation. This hat business is also a trademark of Dickens: the man liked to imbue his characters with contradictions. The Artful Dodger is a pickpocket, and so he needs to blend in; and yet, he wears a hat that most definitely doesn’t help in this endeavor.
Contradiction adds spice to any character. It is also a very realistic aspect of human nature.