“The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.”
We’ve all read them: those books we don’t want to put down, the ones filled with pages that we literally can’t help turning as we immerse ourselves in the lives – and journeys – of the characters who seem to come alive. That’s always been one of my favorite parts about reading and writing, the transformation of these people who otherwise wouldn’t have existed into living, breathing, relatable portraits. The idea of creating these snapshots, of telling the characters’ stories and painting a picture of the lessons they learn, it’s beyond intriguing. It’s fascinating. I think I’ve always been a visual writer. I “watch” the scenes as I’m working on them, I imagine what the characters are seeing, hearing, feeling. It’s not enough to just know the characters. I have to understand them. And yes, I know that may sound a bit ridiculous, but it’s true. Even when I’m writing about someone I don’t necessarily relate to in terms of situation or personality, I always search for something – even if it’s the smallest tidbit – to connect with them on. Because characters? They have to be real. They have to be dynamic, three dimensional, multi-layered people who we want to root for. They have to draw us in. They have to make us want to turn the page. They have to give us something to carry away from their stories, their journeys.
That’s something I’ve been pondering a lot lately as I brainstorm ideas for the characters in my new novel. I always find that they really start to evolve and take on a life of their own once I start writing, but I’ve discovered that having that initial springboard to bounce off of is so important. And fun, it’s so fun. I love getting to think about the characters – who they are, what inspires them, what makes them tick, what they have to learn. The possibilities are endless. How can I not be excited? I’m excited for the characters to lead the way, for them to make choices I don’t always agree with but do always understand, for them to maybe even teach me a few lessons along the way.
All of this has me thinking about characters in the books I’ve read – some recent, some not so recent – and which ones are my favorites. And why they’re my favorites, because that’s important, too. I just finished reading Katherine Center’s “Get Lucky,” and before that, Maureen Lipinski’s “A Bump in the Road” and “Not Ready for Mom Jeans.” Did I relate to every aspect of the characters’ lives? Of course not. I don’t know that that’s ever possible. But did I connect with them and their journeys? Could I see some part of myself in them? Could I understand who they are and where they’re coming from? Absolutely. And did I carry away inspiration from the characters? Did they resonate with me after I read the last paragraph? Do I want to know more about their lives and journeys? Did they become like friends who I was rooting for? Without a doubt.
So as I finish these character sketches of the people who will fill my latest novel (and, um, possibly continue to check my email much too frequently as I wait for a response from one particular agent and remind myself that patience is a virtue I’m normally able to possess), I’m curious – do you have any favorite characters from novels you’ve read? Any that you’ve connected with or whose stories have acted as inspiration? And what do you look for in characters? What draws you in?