I recently looked over an online ‘course’ on “developing characters” designed to – to quote the sales pitch – “make your characters come alive and jump off the page into the reader’s reality.”
Needless to say, for $US75 and a nebulous sort of outcome as well as vague promises of writing riches, I never went through with said ‘course’, but it did make me think – what characters have really pulled me in when I’ve read?
Now, I’m the first to admit that many of my own characters – particularly secondary ones, or any that seem to face a monster – are 2-dimensional at best. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try hard to give my characters a bit of “life”.
So, onto the meat of this – here are five characters that really came to life for me.
And, yes, my preferred genres come out in full force in this. But – hey! – it’s what I read the most of, so of course it’s going to go that way.
One last thing – these aren’t necessarily my favourite books or stories. I mean, I do enjoy them all, but only 2 of these selections would appear in any of my “best of” lists. But that’s beside the point. These are my favourite characters as written, presented here in no particular order.
The shark – Jaws by Peter Benchley
The characterisation of the shark really made the book. Benchley avoided anthropomorphisation of the creature, and instead write of instincts and nature, making the shark such an object of sympathy that, by the end, I was actually hoping the shark would win. Not bad for the so-called villain of the piece. I should point out that I read this before seeing the movie; my father decided the film would be too scary for me, so one of my grandmothers got me the book instead.
Arnold Cunningham – Christine by Stephen King
The “big bad” of the book is, of course, Christine, the ’58 Plymouth Fury, and poor Arnie is the unwitting guy dragged along by it. But it is King’s description of his degeneration and gradual slide into the persona of LeBay, Christine’s original owner, coupled with brief glimpses of Arnie as he once was, that makes him such a well-formed and ultimately sympathetic character.
Colin Dobson – Stark by Ben Elton
Elton’s comedy about the end of the world at man’s hand is sort of based around CD, though to say he is the driving force is a little disingenuous; after all, the bad guys win, don’t they? (Ahh, spoiler, or not?) This reluctant Englishman in Australia, fighting forces he cannot begin to understand, is very probably an author avatar, but maybe that’s why he is so well-formed and easy to relate to. No great super-heroics, just a man in a situation, maybe reacting like any of us would.
Catherine Earnshaw – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Though not one of my very favourite books, Wuthering Heights is one of the very few so-called “classics” of literature that I really enjoy. And the two reasons for that are the sense of desolation of the location – the Yorkshire moors – and the fact the characters are such an incredible bunch of people. And my favourite is Catherine. She’s only in the first half of the book (although her daughter is there later), but it is her who leaves such an impression on everyone else and it is her decisions that force the narrative. She’s over the top, she’s whining, but she’s strong and she is central (her ghost even starts the story!) and she is wonderfully realised.
John Garth – ‘The Streets Of Ashkelon’ by Harry Harrison
A short story, and one of my favourites, this tale of the corruption of innocence is held together by the atheist Garth and his relationship with the intelligent but innocent Weskers. This relationship is strained with the arrival of an over-zealous missionary, who proceeds to destroy the innocence of the world. For a short story, the world-weariness and sense of growing depression in Garth is developed really well. And the final dénouement is heart-wrenching.
So there you have it – my five favourite characters from writing. I just wish I could develop characters as strong as these…
Feel free to sound off about your own favourites in the comments section below!