Good Characters—Day 2

I have to admit—with my favorite characters, I didn’t experience “love at first sight.” But something about them intrigued me, caught my attention, and made me value them enough to keep on following them around.

Scarlet O’Hara was like that. She was spoiled, vain, a manipulater and a user. And yet … when Ashley refused her, in front of Rhett, no less, I felt for her and was pretty much in her camp from that point on, even when she did despicable things. She was a strong woman who … wasn’t. And when circumstances turned against her, she was stronger than she wanted to be … and weaker. What an amazing, complex character.

Maybe, complexity belongs on the list of traits needed to create a good character. It’s not just that Scarlet had these strengths and then a weakness or two thrown in so that readers could see her as well-rounded. It was more that she was motivated from both parts of her personality and sometimes a strength (commitment to preserve the land, no matter what) led her to do what her weakness (use people) required.

And by the way, I’ve never been madder at a character than I was at Scarlet in the end. Not mad at the author. Mad at Scarlet. She had become that real to me that I blamed her for making the ultimate wrong decision.

Ah, to be able to make readers CARE about characters like that.

– – –

Some great feedback from Chris and Kaci on yesterday’s list. Really causing me to think through this, which I love.

Published in: on October 17, 2006 at 11:53 am  Comments (8)  


  1. I have read this book about 10 times.

    Thank you for saying Scarlett was weak–she sure was and I never realized it until I was older. Her strength really was based on Rhett and more than him, to Melly the milque toast.

    So why don’t people love Melly as much as Scarlett? Because she was steady and loyal and kind. All the attributes that we as Christians are called to have; she was weak physically but Melly was far stronger than Scarlett. Margaret Mitchell made this character not only blind but a character who chose to be blind about Scarlett’s shortcomings. I understand it, but UGH! that’s so annoying. Poor sweet, steady Melly; she never had the conflict because she “chose” not to.

    Have you read How Green is My Valley? There is a sweet steady character in that book named Bronwen. She is a strong, healthy, beautiful Welsh woman, but as far as characters go, she’s steady and immovable. She loses her husband, but she’s rock solid. Yet, Bronwen is wonderful and compelling, where Melly comes across as bland.

    Now, I was thinking about Superman and Clark Kent. I think it depend on how a man have this double nature. I understand that we’re using an extreme here but have you ever heard of a movie called “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne. He plays an ex-prize fighter who refuses to fight his brother in law. He’s not necessarily a dorky Clark Kent but he is chosing to be passive. Until the end.

    If you are talking about Superman/Clark Kent roles/characters where Clark Kent never grows or matures, then yes, that would be annoying. I saw a wonderful cartoon of Clark Kent having breakfast with his mom on the farm. He was the big, hulking gentle man sitting at the table with his sweet skinny (of course 😡 ) mother and he just looked so endearing to me. It made me want to buy Superman book at Sam’s Club–LOLOL!

    I guess, Rebecca, that I wouldn’t have a problem with a Clark Kent/Superman role if it was written well. The same goes with a Melly character.

    Well written characters. Any ideas how to do that???

    Great questions, Rebecca!

    My favorite quote in the book-

    Suddenly she was standing at Tara again with all the world about her ears, desolate with the knowledge that she could not face live without the terrible strength of the weak, the gentle, the tenderhearted.

    (This is right before Melanie dies)

    Regards from the Southside–Go Bears!


  2. Just came across your site. I’m new to blogging – 6days old.

    In Jesus,


  3. Welcome to the world of blogging, Maria. I hope you visit A Christian Worldview of Fiction often.



  4. Chris,

    Oddly enough, my third time through Gone with the Wind I keyed in on Melany and really came to love her. The second time I was focused on Ashley and realized what a wimp, what a despicable character he was, how he could have really set Scarlett straight at any time because he knew how much he needed Melany and that he was truly in love with her, but he enjoyed having Scarlett’s attention too much. Maybe if the book had been about Melany, we would have seen her strength sooner. That book would have been a real tragedy, with dear, sacrificial Melly dying in the end. Brings a lump in my throat just thinking about it. 🙂

    The thing with Clark Kent is, we KNOW he is Superman, so I don’t know as we can accurately measure our response to him if we truly thought he was a wimp only to see a hero emerge during some crisis.

    Think Back to the Future hero’s dad (I forget his name). He was a thoroughly unlikeable character until the future was changed.



  5. I don’t know, Becky. There’s something very powerful about the “redemption” of a character or when a character rises to the occasion (sp?). The reason he became likeable is because he “grew”/bettered himself.



  6. Ah, “became” likeable. There’s the thing. I want to address this at some point. A lot of Christian fiction has characters who are unregenerate and in that state are not particularly likeable. Then when they experience redemption, they are likeable. I’m looking for secrets to make a character likeable from the get-go, even if he still needs redemption, or not.



  7. The likeable thing–humor. Especially for a guy, don’t you think?


  8. You know, humor is something I really look for in people I meet but rarely in a character I read about. Not that I think it’s a turn-off or anything. And I can see how some people might really like that quality in a character. Maybe because humor itself is so subjective … I don’t know.

    It fits with one of the qualities Donald Maass in his book Writing the Breakout Novel discusses.



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