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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Larger than life Characters: A Lesson from Kirk, Spock and McCoy

With a rare weekend of peace and quiet to think and simply be, my thoughts have finally had a chance to turn back to the world of fiction and how to pump life into my stories. These thoughts inevitably turn me back to the one question I seem to puzzle over relentlessly: what is it that makes unforgettable characters and stories?

And these thoughts inevitably cause me to recall perhaps the strongest, most long-lasting characters of all time--the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock & McCoy from Star Trek the original series.  Granted, its a bit of a cheat in the sense that these characters were brought to life on screen and were not limited to the pages of a book.

Still, with Spock as my all time favorite character, and Kirk & McCoy running a close 2nd and 3rd, I asked myself:  What is it about these characters that makes me come back to them time and time again?  Here's the list that came to mind:

1.  Super smart
2.  Physically strong
3.  Loyal unto death
4.  Quick thinker--brings solutions
5.  Best friend
6.  Different from others around him
7.  The best at what he does
8.  Distinctive in look
9.  Analytical/logical
10. Feels deeply
11. Sense of humor

1.  Decisive/command abilities
2.  Best at what he does
3.  Feels deeply
4.  Fiercely loyal
5.  sense of humor

1.  Best at what he does
2.  Sense of humor
3.  Feels deeply
4.  Not afraid to challenge authority
5.  Fiercely loyal

What I thought was interesting was that while each of these three characters have traits that are unique to them, I identified four traits that they shared in common:

1.  Loyalty
2.  Best at what they do
3.  Feel deeply
4.  Sense of humor

So then I ask myself: What's my favorite novel of all time?  Zane Grey's "Forlorn River."  It's main character, known simply as Nevada, also displays all four of the above mentioned traits.

The Hardy Boys series of books that I read as a kid and young adult, also featured characters (my favorite was Frank) who exemplified these four traits.

I recently finished reading James Scott Bell and Tracie Peterson's historical fiction series based on turn of the  century female lawyer Kit Shannon. In this case, loyalty and being the best at what she does definitely applied, and to some degree depth of feeling as well, though I'm not so sure about sense of humor.

So the question is, does every standout character in fiction require all of these traits? Some combination?  Or maybe standout characters don't require these traits at all and it is simply a measure of what I tend to look for in characters personally.

What are the standout traits of your all time favorite fictional characters?

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