We all have them: characters that we adore, and characters that we hate. Characters that we admire, respect, and love. And even though we wouldn't make some of their decisions, we can at least appreciate where they're coming from. Alternatively, we have all met "heroes" that we can't stand; that, for whatever reason, we find whiny, obnoxious, grating, and suffering from TSTL syndrome. Sometimes our reactions to these fictional people are so powerful, we fall head over heels in love, or physically hurl the book across the room in disgust.
Funny thing, though; our reactions to these characters might be completely different then someone else's. We might love a character, while our best friend hates them. Or they might adore one heroine, while we wish rabid dogs would tear her arms off. Everyone responds to characters differently, which is why there is no "perfect" character, no hero or heroine that everyone loves and adores. Even Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen have people who can't stand them.
The point is, I can't tell you what makes a perfect character. I can only tell you what makes a perfect character for me. The traits I look for and admire, and try to emulate in my own writing. So, here is my personal list of what makes an awesome character.
A strong moral compass: This doesn't mean our protag has to be a goody-two shoes. In fact, the most interesting stories are about people who are flawed. And incidentally, I LOVE stories where the main character is a thief, an assassin, a rebel or a street rat. But, though they might steal and lie and fight, maybe even kill, at their core is the strong compulsion to do what is right. They might not always succeed, but at least they try.
Loyalty: This is a big one for me. A hero sticks by their friends and companions no matter what. They will not deliberately hurt them, betray them, or stab them in the back. They will not sabotage a friendship for the sake of a love interest. They will be true and faithful to their friends and family, do anything to aid them, even if it comes back to bite them later. Because if they don't care about other people, what kind of hero are they? Why should I want them to succeed?
A fighter: Again, this doesn't mean the heroine is the best fighter in the world, that she can take on 26 fully grown men and win without chipping a nail. (In fact, unless she is Superwoman, Buffy, or a god, this would get the "hurled across the room" treatment, but that's a different post.) It doesn't even mean she has any martial training at all. But, when push comes to shove, she will not lie there and do nothing. She will not huddle in a corner and scream. She will pick up a rock, a stick, anything. Even if her only weapon is her tongue and her wit, she will make something happen. And she can be rescued by the guy occasionally, there is nothing wrong with that. It's not horrible to have help, as long as she doesn't expect the guy to come and save her every single time. And sometimes, she will leap in to save him as well.
Modesty: The character might be beautiful. He/she might even know they're beautiful. Or smart. Or strong. Or able to kick all kinds of butt without blinking an eye. But my kind of hero won't lord it over others, and they certainly won't look down on people with that snotty "I'm better then you because you're a girl/a normal person/a human" attitude. It's fine to be gorgeous and smart and talented, but please don't rub it in my face. (Additionally, if the character is obviously beautiful, them constantly whining and complaining about how hideous they are, when they have people falling all over them, can be just a tad annoying.)
Selflessness: I'm a sucker for the Ultimate Noble Sacrifice, as most of my readers know by now. I love stories where the one character is willing to give up everything, even their own life, to save the world or the people they love. It takes a special kind of bravery, a special kind of love, to sacrifice yourself for everyone. Even if the situation is not that dire, altruism, bravery, and compassion are three traits that I must have in any character I respect.
So those are a few of the traits I look for and admire in a hero or heroine. I also have characters that make me cringe, bristle, roll my eyes, and occasionally hurl a book across the room in disgust, but that's a topic for a different post. So, who are some of your favorite characters, and why do you love them?