This Is Why We Love Great Characters
Since earlier this year, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to very generous book clubs to which I have offered excerpts of LITTLE LOVELY THINGS. What a thrill to be included in discussions with people who have opened their hearts to me, a new author!
Great Characters Are a Mystery
Q&A is always the most interesting experience as such a broad range of topics emerge, mirroring the different reading experiences among the group. One subject that pops up regularly is about my characters – specifically, where do they come from? This is, of course, such an expected and obvious question – you’d think I would have a quick snap, maybe even rote, answer. But, I do not.
Because I don’t really know.
Great Characters Pull Us In
That sounds bad, doesn’t it? To my frustration, I tend to provide a half-formed response that often includes painful hesitation and faltering words. Because you see, I love my characters. Some more than others. But truly and with all my heart. And so for me to explain where they came from or how I developed them in a certain way is like discussing the same about intimate relationships.
Yes, I can easily describe how I met my husband. I mean the setting (college) and such. But can I really approach the depth of experience which caused us to forge a path through life together? Can you describe a friendship that didn’t seem to quite work out at first, and then through years and miles of experience, the qualities once suspect somehow morph into something you cherish?
Same story with my characters. They emerge from some peculiar fusion of my heart and my brain. Maybe it’s magic. I don’t completely know.
All I can tell you is the following: some of them entered my life fully formed, some I had to coax patiently into view like a slow developing photo negative, and still others, mercifully few, choose to remain a bit elusive like a grainy old Polaroid snapshot.
Irritatingly, like ‘real’ people, they don’t always do as I ask, don’t always share love the way I wish they would, and sometimes surprise the sox off of me (when you read the book, you will know who I am talking about.)
Great Characters Make Great Writers
I’m not certain how other authors create characters, nor, quite frankly, other than curiosity, do I care. I’ve come to accept that crafting a human being cannot be fully realized from ‘how to’ books on fiction.
One thing I do understand with certainty is that my characters have made me a writer. I would never be so entitled to trust myself to construct a story without their help. I welcomed them into my life, and they, in turn, allowed me to mess with theirs.
What a deal.
Isn’t this what the reading experience is all about? Aren’t great characters what makes fiction stick to our bones? Think of your favorite books – why is it that long after details of the plot or themes grow elusive, you can easily conjure a protagonist down to minor detail if pressed? So many memorable personalities have become part of our collective ‘mental’ lexicon.
Can’t you just hear the gentle drawl of Atticus Finch when he’s sitting with Scout in her ubiquitous overalls on their sprawling southern porch? Doesn’t your heart still catch when you consider the fiery spirit of young Katniss Everdeen stepping forward to take her little sister’s place in what was essentially a death lottery in The Hunger Games?
My characters are my favorite people to talk about (okay, aside from my dog and cat), and are as dear to me as relatives, and sometimes I embarrass myself and get emotional when I speak about them. As such, I prefer to talk about the qualities they embody rather than where they came from.
They stand as individuals, not cultural or gender-based stereotypes, but humans caught in circumstance, and most of them are trying to react, like all of us, to the clarion call of something larger than themselves in the grand scheme of life.
They have been generous enough to share their lives with me and remain patient when I ask their permission to do things they don’t love.
They have taught me much about life.
And I am grateful.