Not the best segue into a blog about characters, but don't leave just yet. There's more. Good or bad, there's more. ;)
Most of us can't come close to knowing how many books we've read over our lifetimes, much less remember even half of the characters in them. But many of us can talk about our favorite book or books and the characters who inhabited the stories.
I'll skip Trixie Belden and move straight on to more "adult" books. After several years of swimming around in multiple genres, romance a main one, I fell into horror like a lead brick. Stephen King horror, to be exact. I won't go into the several characters in The Stand who had what we could call Starring Roles, but what I will say--and continue to do it often--is that SK knows how to write a character. He knows how to do it so well that, in The Stand, each character gets chapters of his or her own (POV-wise, that is), and by reading only the first sentence or two, the identity of the POV character is clear...without the mention of the character's name. No, I did not mix up Stu with Larry or anyone else. They were clearly two different characters throughout the book. Because of this, I bow down to Stephen King, Master of Characters.
The thing is, characters make a book. The plot can be magnificent, the dialogue perfect, and the setting heavenly, but without good characters, who cares?
My trip back into romance from horror was ushered in by my oldest and dearest friend. (We'll call her "G") G called me on the phone one day, insisting I listen to the first few pages of the book she'd begun to read. The problem was, she kept laughing, and it was hard to understand what she read to me, but between her giggles, I managed to grasp enough that even I started laughing. Afterward, I went out and found my own copy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' It Had to Be You, and I've never regretted it, having read it so many times I've lost count.
The heroine, Phoebe Sommerville, has just learned she's the owner of her father's football team, the Chicago Stars. She knows nothing about football. Phoebe has the body of...well, let's just say she has more than enough in the right places. Voluptuous describes her best. What Phoebe doesn't have is faith in herself. She was her father's biggest disappointment, and he spent as little time with her as possible. Phoebe plays it both soft and tough (and dumb and sexy) on the outside, and tough as leather (and smart, plus a bit frigid) on the inside, but she steers clear of relationships with men...straight men, anyway. Gay men pose no problem. It all goes back to an incident in her childhood.
Tough and sexy lady on the outside, scared child on the inside. My three favorite SEP books all have that kind of heroine.
Ain't She Sweet's Sugar Beth Carey has that same tough exterior, and once upon a time, it was her interior, too. But she's had some hard times since then, and she's learned a lot and grown up, leaving her with self-esteem that's seen much better days. She's so tough that she carries through to nearly the end with that tough-gal attitude, thanks to her inner fears.
Blue Bailey, heroine of Natural Born Charmer, is down and out, with a smart mouth that doesn't stop. But it isn't that outer exterior that wins over readers (and the hero!). It's her heart, the thing she doesn't say that won this reader. But Blue has to learn a lot of lessons, especially how to surrender, to get her happy-ever-after.
So there it is. Tough on the outside, soft on the inside. The funny thing is, the heroes for these heroines need to be much the same to be able to both keep up with them and keep our interest. But that's what makes these characters memorable. That's what makes them real. As people, we aren't just one type, we're many. We interact with some people one way, and with other people in another. As human, we do our best to keep our weaknesses hidden, because if someone were to ever guess... Well, you get the idea. And that's the kind of heroines AND heroes I like to read. I also like humor along with the angst. Let me wring my hands one minute, then laugh at something the character said or thought the next.
Give me a character with many layers and facets, and you've won me over. I'll read and re-read the book many times over. THAT'S a KEEPER.