It's about Character.
Plain and simple, I LOVE Harry. I love all of them really - even those with smaller parts in the story. But why? Why do I think of Harry as a real flesh and blood person? Why does my heart break for this boy who has to endure so much?
This is a question I keep coming back to, the more books I read. I realize that if I don't care about the characters - don't buy them as real - I could care less about the plot, no matter how incredible it is. So below I've listed a few things we should strive for as writers when creating our characters and I give examples using dear dear Harry.
1. The reader should be able to identify. Not an orphan raised by uncaring relatives? That's okay. I'm sure we've all felt the odd man out on occasion. Who hasn't felt like second fiddle? Who hasn't experienced loss?
2. The Character should be likable, but flawed. I know it sounds counter-intuitive. How can someone be both at the same time? Well, how many perfect people do you love? Are you perfect? Harry has a big heart which he wears on his sleeve. He's loyal to the extreme and brave (Not just anyone can pull the sword of Gryffindor out of a hat). But he's also, as Hermione puts it, got a hero complex. He doesn't want others to get hurt because of him, and he sometimes tries to shut them out because of that. He thinks he can do it on his own, but we know he can't. He's also stubborn. Think of book 7 where he refuses to agree to use the killing curse even though he's told he's being naive. Is this good or bad? Well, we see how it turns out, but there's that question in our minds.
If your character is obviously perfect, where is the character arc?
3. The Character has to suffer. My critique group will probably get on me for this one because they know I tend to torture my own characters terribly. I really put them through the wringer, so to speak. But that's what forces them to grow before our eyes. It's what makes us (the readers) grip the edge of our seats. Think of Order of the Phoenix. Harry's torturous fifth year. Dumbledore who Harry idolizes and depends on seems purposely distant through the whole thing. Delores Umbridge - need I say more? I physically cringed when Harry wrote in his own blood and stubbornly continued to do so, so she wouldn't see how much it hurt. He became more of a hero to me because I know I probably wouldn't have been able to handle that. Making sense? Why does Harry have to lose so many people he loves. So many people WE love? Because his reaction shows us who he really is, and helps drive him to accept his destiny in the end.
4. The Character must be believable. If we didn't see those smaller moments with Harry falling for Cho, or eating piles of chocolate frogs with Ron, or enjoying the twins' pranks, we might not buy that he's a real kid. No matter how epic the adventure, we have to know the person we're rooting for is human. And I don't care if you're writing about an alien, he still has to feel HUMAN. Harry has dimension. We are with him while he goofs off from homework, has to dance with a girl, and forces down Hagrid's fudge to be polite. These little details mean everything.