What do I mean by stubborn?
Anna Karenina (it seems like forever since I've talked about Tolstoy!), Mahlke from Cat and Mouse, Brod from Everything Is Illuminated, Lena from Light In August, Ann from After Ann--whether it be their beauty, their penis size, their determination, their vileness, or the extent of their menstrual cramps, all of these fictional people have some part of them that doesn't conform to the norms set up by the book they participate in.
In fact, critic Harold Bloom puts it this way when he's talking about Shakespearean characters like Hamlet, Bottom, or Falstaff: The work that these characters are in aren't able to contain them.
When I say a character is stubborn, I mean they aren't willing to fit neatly into the story you have created around them. Do you want them to go down the dark basement so that the monster will have a chance to eat them? Do you want them to forget to look both ways before crossing the street? A memorable character doesn't give a flying frick about what you want! She or he doesn't care about your themes or your foils or your three act structure. She or he is going to do whatever the hell she or he wants to do because that is how vital they are...that is how stubborn they are.
One of my favorite writers today is Khuzali Manickavel. Her short story "Because Sometimes It Is Magic And Sometimes It is Everything Else" makes my mouth water every time I think about it. The story makes me feel like an utter failure in every way.
Needless to say, I have studied her writing extensively, and the one thing I've picked up from this is that a vital character and a pre-planned plot rarely if ever go hand in hand. A truly vital character will drive your story and take it to unexpected places.
Isn't there a term for that?
Many writers in the literary realm consider their work to be character driven. But, often the characters in those "character driven" stories aren't very memorable at all. I don't mean this in a bad way, since this category includes some of my other favorite writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Cormac McCarthy. But, I feel like these works aren't about characters so much as they are writing about insight, or about life. Reading them teaches me about universals, not about individual people. The characters often are interchangeable.
That's all fine and good--really, I wouldn't mind writing like Jhumpa Lahiri at all--but if you're after a great character, if you want that person that can't be contained, you must give them the freedom to be stubborn.
In my own experience, I stumbled upon one of my best characters quite on accident. I had written a book told from the point of view of three main characters. But, it wasn't any of these characters that stole the show. It was a stuttering, lanky teenage boy who collected women's underwear and tore the legs off live crabs that everyone said was memorable.
Think about your characters...especially the ones you or others have loved the most. Are they stubborn? Do they make up their own rules regardless of what you'd like them to do?