Characters are usually the first thing the reader encounters. They may be in the midst of action or heading toward it but every book has them and without them the plot cannot move forward. Nothing can happen. Which is why they are so important.
As illustrated by my last post, describing characters can be just that simple. I don’t recall Dickens telling us what Louisa wore, and I don’t even remember if he said what color her hair or eyes were. And yet, as soon as I read that paragraph I knew who Louisa was so that everything that followed, everything she did, made perfect sense. And here’s my advice. Make certain you do the same. Because there’s nothing worse than reading happily along and then have the story spoiled by a character acting completely unexpectedly. It can ruin a tale.
Recently I read So Brave, So Young, And Handsome, by Lief Enger who also wrote Peace Like a River, which I loved. Unfortunately, at one point the main character in So Brave acted in a way I found unbelievable and it put me off the rest of the book; I almost didn’t finish it. Same thing happened in one of my favorite shows on Scifi last week, Eureka (and don’t you dare laugh, it’s fun!). Alison, former head of Global Dynamics, helped her son win a contest by doing something that endangered everyone in town and I just don’t think the real Alison would have done that. It spoiled the show and made me lose respect for Alison. Luckily, in the case of Eureka, that little gaff won’t be enough to make me quit watching the show – unless the writers continue to screw up. And while I did finish reading So Brave I’m not 100% sure I’ll pick up something else by the same author. Because when I get to know a character I expect them to be true to themselves throughout the book unless the author provides me with a very good reason otherwise.