Characters? Or friends?


“The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.”
~James Bryce

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?

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6 thoughts on “Characters? Or friends?

  1. I’m drawn to characters who feel REAL, who are flawed, who show a range of complexity, whose growth and change comes across natively on the page.

    Naturally… that’s hard to accomplish. *head on desk*

    F. Scott Fitzgerald said, (and I can never find the exact quote any more), that all great characters are contradictions. The unassuming hobbit with a surprising depth of courage. The bold archaeologist who’s terrified of snakes. (And on, and on.) To me, those contradictions existing and making sense in the same person is what can help constitute that depth and three-dimensionality we look for in great characters.

    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.
    I completely agree! I see that happening in my own writing, too. I love that even when I am surprised by my characters, somehow the good ones always seem… inevitable.

    Also: refreshing the email inbox definitely doesn’t help the email arrive any faster. I blame the failures of modern technology. Silly emails, not arriving when I need them…

    • Thank you for stopping by, Erin — and congratulations on your wonderful news!! :-)

      I absolutely agree with you a hundred percent about the importance of characters who feel real. I think sometimes it can be challenging to write in those flaws, but in the end, those imperfections often turn out to be what’s most relatable. One of the things that fascinates me about characters I find myself drawn to is definitely the growth they undergo. I love going on the journey with them as they evolve.

      And the Fitzgerald quote? It so perfectly sums up what’s intriguing about those complex characters. The quirks and depth only add to them. Pulling off the idea of those contradictions making sense can certainly be tough, but so worth it. You have me thinking back on all the books I’ve recently read, pondering that three-dimensional quality that the characters brought to the story.

      Isn’t it fun to be surprised by your own characters sometimes? Of course, that means disagreeing with their choices every now and then, but all for the means of helping them grow and change at the end. It’s such an invigorating process.

      Ah, there you go … I blame my email server ;-) It’s funny. Logically, I understand the wait time. I even appreciate it. Yet I still can’t seem to stop refreshing … oops?

      • I am not waiting on anything at the moment and I am still obsessing. It’s time to stop obsessing and yet… it’s so ingrained after so many months… I can’t stop.

        We need to go to some sort of Writers Waiting Eagerly Support Group. It makes me feel less crazy to know I’m not the only one!

        • It just becomes second nature after awhile, doesn’t it? Even when there’s nothing to obsess over or a given timeframe before the refreshing really should begin again, it’s tough to stop. Such is the writer’s way of life, I guess?

          I’m loving your support group idea ;-) You know, though, just chatting with everyone via blogs and twitter IS sort of like an online community. Like you said, it helps knowing there are others out there who feel the same!!

  2. I totally agree: quirks and flaws are essential for a good character. They have to be relatable and the reader needs to care about them.

    I LOVE the idea of blaming my email server for the lack of new emails in my inbox. :p The waiting is just torture, it’s really getting to me lately.

    • And isn’t it so much fun to give them those quirks along the way? It makes me stop and consider the personality traits we all have … what makes us each unique in our own way. There’s something great about being able to do the same with a character. And the flaws? Well, who said we have to agree with everything our characters do, right? :P

      Okay, so we’re all in agreement. The email servers it is!

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