Compelling plots pull readers into a book, but what most pulls me into a book and makes me want to stay, is a compelling character, one I come to care about – a character I can really believe in. I love the kinds of stories where the character’s actions and reactions ring completely true, so that you don’t feel the intrusion of an authorial hand thrusting the character in a plot direction that doesn’t ring right, that doesn’t silence the questions at the back of your mind – the questions like, Huh? Why’d she/he do that when he/she could’ve done...etc.
Part of fleshing out your character, making her/him compelling and whole is giving your character warts. Yeah, hair and all. Metaphorically speaking, not literally. Outside of fairy tales and formulaic books, you don’t really encounter characters without flaws.
Do you know anyone without a flaw?
Why should your character then, even if she/he is sympathetic, be without flaws? Without contradictions?
The flaws, of course, have to be convincing. Here’s a tip: the things we don’t like about people are often at the opposite end of the spectrum of what we do like about them. Weaknesses appear at one end of a continuum, at the opposite end of which are strengths. For example, someone who’s generous, may well want appreciation for that generosity, or resent lack of generosity in others, which, in a curious way, are ungenerous attributes.
Another example: a character who is committed and dedicated to a cause can also be stubborn and mule-headed in that very pursuit. My heroine Calantha, is one such case in my fantasy novel, THE SOWER OF TALES. Her passion for the story pods makes her ruthless in her disregard for those who don’t value them, makes her at times insensitive to all that’s peripheral to her cause. She is sensitive and empathetic about the story pods, but not always to the people around her who aren’t as invested in the story pods as she is.
So give your characters warts – more than one. Give them several. But make those warts believable. Make them such that they grow out of their strengths, that they sprout hairs naturally.
Giving your character warts makes them human, and it is that humanity that makes us, as readers, care about them. Because then they aren’t so different from us – they’re flawed, just like we are.