Well, according to Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel, Breakout characters are larger-than-life? And just what does it mean to be larger-than-life?
Maass breaks a larger-than-life character into characters who ooze four elements.
1) Strength--"virtually all readers unconsciously seek out novels for an experience of human life that is admirable, amusing, hopeful, perseverant, positive, inspiring and that ultimately makes us feel whole." Pg 106
We need to write characters with moral conviction who are greater than their circumstances. They may have to struggle to find that greatness in them, but that struggle consistently reveals their inner strength and growth as the story progresses. Larger-than-life characters are people who the reader would love to imagine themselves as. They are someone we might strive to be.
2) Larger-than-life characters exude inner conflict. They may not like revealing their inner conflict, but somehow on the page they do. This is a sure fire way to gain reader sympathy to anything, for anyone. Show us how the character struggles, right or wrong, how they process what they've done, or what they're planning to do. The pros and cons they fight with along the way and the consequences they take to heart when they cause a mess. Conflict is the lifeblood of any novel, both internal and external. Reveal your characters internal struggles and watch them grab hold of your reader for the ride of the story.
3) Self-Regard. Larger-than-life characters are self-conscious about themselves. They care about what emotions hit them, they respond to their emotional self. "A compelling hero does not deny his feelings but instead is immersed in them." (pg. 111) I don't know about you, but I love hearing what goes on inside the characters head/heart. That's what makes a book so much more compelling to me than a movie, especially when the actors fail to depict the larger-than-life character intimately.
4)Wit and Spontaneity. I love this element, even though it is one of the most time consuming tasks for an author, I think. But I absolutely love taking days, even weeks, to devise the absolute best comeback. One that reveals exactly who my character is, what matters the most to them, and what can put the secondary character right where they belong, down under. Maass says: "Let loose with the snappy remarks and New York attitude." (pg. 113) I say, I love New Yorkers, even though I'm as far from being one of them as anyone could be! But I love it when a character I'm routing for just has the right response at exactly the right time.
So there you have it. Strength, Inner Conflict, Self-Regard (respects their emotions), and Wit and Spontaneity are all the inner makings of a larger-than-life character who as a result can also become a breakout character. What character(s) in your fictional worlds come close to revealing these four elements? Any? If not, how can you alter your ms and character chart so that they do?
Surrendering to Him,