For me, it's characters. Now, I don't know if I always do a good job of this or not. Like anything there are people out there who may love my characters and those who hate them, but if there is one part of my writing that comes from a deeper part of my heart, a part that's always on my mind, and that I'm always scared of getting wrong, it's my characters. WHO they are. Every single layer to them and I love lots and lots of layers :)
My characters are real people to me. I can't tell you how man conversations I've had with writer friends where I'm struggling over a piece of WHO my character is and I say things like, "But Adrian wouldn't do that." Or "Alec wouldn't see it like that" etc. They're that real, and I almost try to become them, because I need to see things the way they do.
There are times I'm writing when even I am shaking my head at something they do or say. As the author I'm telling them to open their eyes, or wondering how they can think that way but--and this is the important part--If I'm doing my job as the author, even if you don't personally understand why someone is the way they are, you get why THAT character made THAT decision. Agree with it? Maybe not, but if I'm peeling back all those layers and showing you who they are, their decisions/personality will be consistent in who they are.
I am a fan of flawed people. We're all flawed, some of us more than others. Let's take Colt for example. Could he be an asshole? Yep, he definitely could. He came to me and showed me that, that was who he was...but it wasn't the only part of him. He had a balance of that jerk guy, but also had this huge, pulsing heart that is so very special. But he wasn't perfect. He hopefully slowly peeled back those layers to show you different sides of him, and though he (again hopefully) grew throughout the story, the basics of who he is didn't change. He learned to be a little nicer, learned to love and to let people in. He developed through the book, but he will still never be perfect. He still might snap at you from time to time and he still has a dirty mouth, but he's also more hopeful and he discovered who he really is.
A lot of you may not have read FOUR SUMMERS yet, but Brandon is another one of these kind of characters to me. There is so much more to him than meets the eye. He makes some decisions that even I was angry about, but they are who he is, and I had to listen to him, even though I also wanted to kick his butt ;)
If I do one thing right in my writing, that's what I want it to be. I want to write characters who people fall in love with. I want them to be unique and flawed and layered. I want them to screw up, real screw-ups, not manufactured ones and then I want them to fix it. I want them to grow throughout the book and to look at the world differently than they did in the beginning, but also not to completely lose who they are.
Readers, are you a character-reader? Who are some of your favorite characters you've read and why?
Writers, are you a character-writer? Who is a favorite character you've written?