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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Mysteriousness of Characters

I just finished reading, The Girl On The Train" which is a best seller by Paula Hawkins. It didn't sound like my cup of tea but a friend bought it and loaned it to me so I read it. I struggled to finish it because it lacks the absolute basic ingredient I have to have to love a book and that is engaging characters. I have to be enthralled by them. It doesn't even have to be in a good way. They can be worthless or evil but they must intrigue me. None of the characters in The Girl On the Train did that.

The plot was convoluted and interesting. I never did guess who dun it until almost the very end but then I really didn't care very much either because the people involved in the plot weren't able to make me care. The girl who finally turned out to be the heroine was lackluster. The other two female characters had hardly any depth. The three male characters were all losers but not really in a dramatic fashion, they were simply bland losers. Everyone in the book was extremely foolish.

So, for me, characters make or break a book. If the people in a novel don't grab readers, it is a failure. It doesn't matter how intricate the plotting. It doesn't matter how sparkling the descriptions. It doesn't matter how accurate the history. By contrast, I can overlook weaknesses in all these other areas if I am compelled by the characters.

Of course, not all readers are the same, for which we writers should thank God. Evidently, lots of people did not find the same lack in The Girl On The Train as I did. It's sold a heck of a lot more copies than any book I've ever written.

My own books all start with a character. In the beginning, I have a name. From that name, the rest of the book flows. Once I know the name, I know the person and once I know the person, I know what is going to happen in his or her life.

I wonder sometimes where they come from. I am a plump, gray-haired, 70-year-old Grandma type. My characters are mostly male. They are usually more anti-hero than hero. My series character, Rafe Vincennes, has been called a sociopath, conscienceless, an autistic savant. That's nothing like me. I'm a bleeding heart liberal. He is a killer. I hate killing bugs. He is cold-blooded. I'm an empath. So, where does Rafe come from? All I know is that he lives somewhere inside my head.

Developing a plot is an intellectual exercise. Describing a place is usually based on finding words for something real. If a place in a book isn't an actual place, it is probably based on actual places.

But characters are mysterious, seeming to spring up out of nowhere. The writer had no idea they were there until they appear.  And that is what I find so fascinating about characters.


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