With my non-stop film/novel addiction, strong characterization baits me to a story better than any fishhook. Once I’m introduced to the world, the situation, and the people (or non humans) I’m ready to know them. What are their backgrounds? What are their secrets? What force that drives the plot also drives these characters?
I posted recently my review of “Dracula” in my article “On Lawyers, Blade and Real Estate.” A huge strength in this still great novel is the introduction of the lead antagonist character in the beginning. The lawyer inserts himself into the castle realm of a dangerous inhuman monster that over time we gradually came to know as the power vampire. By the time the big chase begins, the reader knows the creature and is running along with Van Helsing and his brave comrades with unyielding determination to destroy the essence of evil. When the story is over, I’m not thinking about the protagonists, as great as they are; I’m thinking about the complex character created in the Count. Even by today’s standards he’s no small potatoes in development, power, and complexity.
My favorite complex characters are people in our present time. When I think about another person in general, where he/she was born? What was the childhood like, the school, the past and present love experiences, employment or family responsibilities? How does this person arrive to he what he/she is now? All of us follow a path that creates what we are. In characters their interaction with others reflects our own feelings and beliefs. While it’s easy to say a man is “just a guy” (or "just a girl" for the ladies) there’s really no such person that simple when taking in the human experience. On that level, people are all complex characters to a writer.
I tend to like characters I can relate to. They may be from the same area of the country that I’m from, or just having a “bad day” (we can all relate), or have a history of similar experiences I either sympathize with or endured myself. When they see the world, I see the world. Complex characters make mistakes. People rarely live perfect lives with every relationship successful, every road taken found to be nourishing in some way. Sometimes people take destructive turns in their lives and we see the behavior in stories leading to tragedy or redemption.
Writers, complex characters go beyond the comic book. Their traits are mostly our traits, and when not, they are unusual and interesting. Regardless of the details, in great stories they remain with us.