Posted in Guest Post

Guest Post about Great Novel Characters

Image credit: Pexels

What Exactly Makes A Great Character In A Novel?

by Rodney Laws

The novel — today’s dominant literary art form — is a relatively new kid on the block, having been perfected in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain and America. The enduring success of the novel owes much to its ability to explore psychological complexities of character. It is people, and their foibles and flaws, that make novels such rich tapestries.

Great characters have dominated the novels of the long nineteenth century and beyond, but what exactly makes a great character? Why do we love (or love to hate) certain characters? What are the hallmarks of great character development? How do some of the best authors approach character?

The best way to do this, I think, is to run through some key traits that crop up time and time again. From those, you can glean some insight into character construction. In this piece, we’re going to consider the notable characteristics of some great characters. Let’s begin.

Relatable vulnerability (Emma Bovary)

The character of Emma Bovary made Gustave Flaubert notorious. His stunningly accurate portrayal of nineteenth century suburbian inertia in the character of young, bored, and married Emma scandalized France.

His frank portrayal of female desire and dissatisfaction shocked moralists, but Emma is one of the world’s most loved fiction heroines — precisely because of her ‘flaws’. It’s Emma’s relatable flaws that make her such a great character. She is vulnerable and complex. She can be cruel, yet she’s also a victim herself.

Even Flaubert is reported to have famously said about Emma: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” (Madame Bovary, she’s me).

What you can learn from Flaubert:

  • Flawed and tragic characters are extremely relatable
  • Vulnerability can help writers draw their readers in
  • A shocking ‘fall from grace’ like the one Emma has will immortalize a character.

Infectious buoyancy (Elizabeth Bennett)

Elizabeth Bennett has a great character arc, and that’s why she’s enduringly popular. She learns from her mistakes, and we like to watch her realize the error of her ways and get what she wants (after some suitable drama, of course, in a plot so influential that it’s cited on a frequent basis — see Jericho Writers on how to plot, for example).

Elizabeth has a zest for life that make her story engaging rather than tragic. She is flawed in her own ways, but not tragically so like Emma Bovary. Lizzie is a great testament to Jane Austen’s own independent spirit as a female novelist in constrained circumstances.

Lizzie also has one of the most romantic stories in English literature: that of two opposed and proud people realizing they do really love each other. It’s the simultaneous character development of both Darcy and Elizabeth that makes their love story such an engaging one to follow, and accounts for the enduring success of Pride & Prejudice.

Mysterious nature (Jay Gatsby)

Complex, always out of reach, tragically blinded by love. Gatsby is elusive, even in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that bears his name, The Great Gatsby. Charismatic and vain, Gatsby is also incredibly warm-hearted and generous.

He lives in a world that seems perfect, but in reality is anything but. The dark side of the Roaring Twenties is perfectly personified in Gatsby’s fragile success and ego. Jay Gatsby is a rich character full of contradictions, and as we slowly get close to the real man, we’re merely blindsided again. Even at the end, Gatsby remains somehow other-wordly.

The distance between the reader and Gatsby is partly due to the unreliable narrator, Nick Carraway — a genius narrative device that makes Fitzgerald’s novel and its characters so deliciously slippery.

Irresistible personality (Jane Eyre)

Jane Eyre is a real testament to Charlotte Bronte’s extraordinary skills as a writer and her innate understanding of character development. Jane definitely fulfils the character development type of ‘extraordinary’ — an extraordinary character and personality “that can make things happen in an empty room”. It’s no coincidence that the novel has her name.

Though from obscure origins, Jane behaves with dignity fitting for a Duchess. Her intense self-knowledge and sense of self make her irresistible, especially in the social context of the novel. Her challenges and pain make her a stronger, more alive version of herself. She is wounded, but strong. She says little, but means a lot. Her character is all about quiet power.

Everyday flaws (Winston Smith)

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great dystopian novel, but it’s also a brilliant character novel. Winston works as a humdrum clerk in a totalitarian dystopia. He seems nondescript and banal, but underneath the surface lives a passionate and brave man.

His varicose ulcers and gin habit make him human (and faintly disgusting). His innate sense of curiosity drives him on. He makes mistakes because he cares. Orwell himself consciously wrote Winston as the everyman character — someone we could all relate to.

Our closeness to Winston makes the setting of the novel all the more powerful and affecting. Reading Orwell’s novel, we all question what we would have done in his place. Winston’s choices become our choices.

Adolescent rebellion (Holden Caulfield)

The brutality and confusion of adolescence is a theme with universal potency, and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most popular and well-regarded novels in history because of the young protagonist’s existential troubles.

Holden Caulfield evidently captures enough universal truth to be a mirror for the reader. How else do you explain his alternating praise and vilification? He stumbles from place to place, searching for earnest human connection but finding a surging disdain for those around him.

Holden doesn’t rebel in an effort to look cool or impress his peers. He rebels from the mediocrities of civilization, choosing to walk away at every turn rather than stick around and accept that people are flawed. His fantasy of being a hero, of protecting children from the loss of innocence, leaves him at war with the world… and the darkness in his own nature.

Ruthless pragmatism (Scarlett O’Hara)

“My dear, I don’t give a damn.” These words (preceded by “Frankly” in the movie adaptation) are firmly affixed to the popular perception of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, but to focus unduly on them is to give short shrift to one of literature’s great survivors.

Scarlett O’Hara, the dear in question, is smart in a time that doesn’t welcome smartness in women. As a wealthy Southern girl, she’s expected to be charming, passive, and essentially vapid — a prize to be won — but only plays the part as needed to get by. Whenever possible, she seeks to express her will, and it’s that will that steels her to hardship.

When war breaks out and washes away her material wealth, Scarlett doesn’t shy away from what needs to be done: she uses her cultural value as a woman (marrying for money) and her formidable intelligence (running her own business) to ensure that she survives.

Righteous courage (Atticus Finch)

The legal profession has suffered greatly in common perception, with lawyers mostly viewed as unscrupulous cads obsessed with money and power, but there’s nobility to be found in the legal field — and to those eager to protect it, Atticus Finch is a worthy hero.

Set in the American South in a time of open racial inequality, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is an undeniable classic. When Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white woman, the general populace automatically considers him guilty beyond question. Atticus Finch is assigned to defend him, and defies racist condemnation by determining to represent his client as effectively as he can.

In the end, despite making a powerful and convincing case, Atticus finds that racism is too entrenched in the jury. Thus, his innocent client is convicted. In the process, though, he inspires future generations with his bold defence of reason and conscience, even in the face of inevitable defeat: courage, as he sees it, is “[W]hen you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

Having looked at these great characters, then, what can we glean? The most notable takeaway is that perfection doesn’t make for interesting characters. We’re drawn to characters with flaws and struggles, because we can relate to them. If you’re struggling to write a character for a novel, keep this in mind.

Rodney Laws is an ecommerce expert with over a decade of experience in building online businesses. Check out his reviews on Ecommerce platforms.io and you’ll find practical tips that you can use to build the best online store for your business. Connect with him on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.”

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Posted in A Stone's Throw, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, blog challenge, Books

#LifeBooksWriting Blog Challenge: Profile of My Character

betweenarockandahardplacesolsticecover
Cover Image of BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, releasing this fall.

While this blog post topic is a week late for the challenge because I was on vacation and very busy when I returned, I still wanted to write it to introduce one of my newest characters in my mystery BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, the sequel to A STONE’S THROW.  I am busy working on edits for this book and hope it’s out in October or November.

Warning: If you haven’t read A STONE’S THROW yet, you might want to skip this post because it contains a spoiler from the ending.

kimpic
What Kim Pierce, college journalism major from the upcoming BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, Cobble Cove Mystery #2, might look like

While many characters from A STONE’S THROW are still included in its sequel, there are also quite a few new characters as Cobble Cove expands. Two of the newer characters introduced in BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE are college students, Kim Pierce and Andy Phillips. The two young people are journalism interns who work for John at the Cobble Cove Courier. Kim also babysits for John and Alicia’s twins. I am profiling her for this challenge.

Kim is the second oldest in a large family. She wears her brown hair in a ponytail and dresses casually in sweaters and jeans. She and Andy, who work together on the newspaper, are dating. Their relationship becomes tested in the book when he is suspected and later accused of some of the crimes that take place in Cobble Cove during the holiday season. When Kim witnesses an event that touches John and Alicia, her older brother Carter comforts her in Andy’s place.

Here is an unedited scene from BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, Cobble Cove Mystery #2 starring Kim:

The babysitter appeared at the nursery door. She was dressed in tight-fitting jeans, a pale fuzzy blue sweater that accented her light blue eyes. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail.

“Sorry that took so long,” she said not even out of breath having run up the stairs. Alicia envied the girl’s 20-year old body.

“Not to worry. I know how long doctors take. Sheila sent me home because she thinks I need more rest, but I feel fine. John was around earlier, but he’s gone to do some chores. Since you’re here, maybe I’ll take him up on his suggestion to go Christmas shopping or do something in town.”

Kim smiled. “Of course. You deserve to have time to yourself. I can watch the twins until four and then I have to get ready for my evening class.”

“I should be back way before then. How are your classes going this semester?”

Kim walked over to the cribs and looked down at the babies who were starting to fall asleep. In a low voice, she replied. “They’re good. Lots of work, but I enjoy it.”

“How much longer do you need to go before you earn your degree?”

Kim was by Carol’s crib, and she smiled as the baby opened her eyes again and regarded her with a gurgle. She reached down and tickled her.

“So sweet. Your babies are adorable, Alicia. One day, I hope to have cuties like these. But I want to start my career first. If I can afford the classes next year, I’ll be able to finish the following spring.”

Alicia knew college costs were high. “Are you taking out any loans?” When Alicia was at Long Island University, she’d earned some scholarships but she’d also borrowed money in her last year at library school. Luckily, she was able to pay her loan off shortly after she married her first husband.

“I’m not sure that’s a wise thing to do,” Kim said walking over to Johnny and watching as he followed his sister in waking up.

“I hate to have to pay back all that money with interest. I know I won’t earn much in the field I’m entering, especially in the beginning, and I can’t expect my parents to help much since I have three sisters and a brother at home.”

Alicia knew that both Kim and John’s other assistant, Andy, were from lower middle-class families. Kim came from a large family compared to today’s households and, although Andy only had a younger brother, his dad had died in a car accident a few years ago. His mother was struggling to make ends meet. She felt for the young people who were just starting out and was glad that John was paying them for their work on the paper and that she could offer Kim additional money for babysitting.

Buy links for A STONE’S THROW:

Amazon U.S.: KINDLE: http://amzn.to/1MjaJgN

Amazon Australia: http://bit.ly/1Sdh82D

Amazon Canada: http://amzn.to/1SdheHi

Amazon U.K.: http://amzn.to/1QutXBW

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1nQPyv4

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1KGYHep

Also available on iTunes and Ingram

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Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Debbie-De-Louise/e/B0144ZGXPW/

Website/Blog/Newsletter Sign-Up: https://debbiedelouise.wordpress.com

blogchallengegraphicupdatedI’m very excited to participate in the blog challenge Sophia Valentine of Lifestyle and Literature created (see graphic for topics and dates if you have a blog and would like to participate. If you’re a reader, I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning about some of the great participating authors).

 

 

 

 

Posted in A Stone's Throw, Authors, blog challenge, Books, Characters, Cloudy Rainbow

#LifeBooksWriting Blog Challenge: How I Create Characters

blogchallengegraphicupdatedThis week’s blog challenge is called character inspiration. Sophia Valentine of Lifestyle and Literature created this challenge (see graphic for topics and dates if you have a blog and would like to participate. If you’re a reader, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the posts from the great participating authors).

interviewblogpostThe characters I feature in my books are fictionalized composites of people I know or have known. The main character usually shares some of my personality or background. For instance, in “A Stone’s Throw,” Alicia Fairmont is a librarian like I am. Although my husband is still alive, thank God, Alicia is a widow. Her marriage was quite different from mine, as her husband kept his past secret. When she searches for his family that she has never met, she ends up meeting and falling in love with John McKinney, the publisher of a small town newspaper. John’s character is mostly imaginary. His occupation and interest in journalism and novel writing is another aspect of my personal experience. I worked as Features editor on my college newspaper and also edited and published my library school newsletter before writing articles, short stories and novels.

What's the Secret Ingredient in the McKinney's PB&J Recipe-John’s father, 80-year old Mac, is another central character in my book. He is a librarian and previous library director at the Cobble Cove Library in upstate New York. One memorable characteristic of Mac is his love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I worked part-time in the special collections department of my college library, I worked with an older gentleman who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. I gave Mac this similar quirk and also his propensity for creative quotes. The tagline of the book, which comes from one of Mac’s sayings is, “Things happen for a reason.”

Sheila, the current library director and a close friend of Mac and John is not based on anyone I’ve worked for. She’s a complex character who is difficult to know initially. As the story unfolds, we learn her hard exterior was built after the tragic loss of her young husband to a brain aneurysm that left her to raise her daughter alone.

There are many other characters in the book including Alicia’s best friend, Abigail Nostran, known as Gilly, who worked with her part-time as a clerk at their library on Long Island. Gilly has three sons and is a very down-to-earth person who likes to wear sweatshirts and casual clothing. She loves to bake and, despite a messy divorce, is a positive person who enjoys talking about the opposite sex. I based Gilly on several women I’ve known throughout my life. I also had a friend at my library who worked as a clerk.

Dora, the innkeeper, who Alicia first meets when coming to Cobble Cove, shares some similarities with Gilly. She has never married and, during the course of the book, develops a love interest in someone. An older woman who runs a bed and breakfast in a small town, she’s a bit wary about new guests. As she gets to know Alicia, she becomes friendlier. Her interests also include baking as well as gardening and making the inn’s bath soaps and lotions.

teaser6teaser5dogTwo other characters that play important roles in my book, although they aren’t human, are the library Siamese cat, Sneaky, and Mac and John’s golden retriever, Fido. The cat is based on my own Siamese cat, Oliver, who is older than Sneaky. The dog is also based on some dogs I grew up with and those I’ve read about in books.

For more information about my characters, you can read  “Interview with My Characters” and/or  “Celebrating Christmas with My Characters” both on this blog.

The sequel to “A Stone’s Throw” will feature several new characters. Without giving the story away, some will be college-age and others children. I base the kids on my own daughter when she was the age of the characters. One young girl who plays a big role in the book, Angelina,  suffers from leukemia. Her character is based on my niece who underwent a bone marrow transplant ten years ago at the age of 12 and is now completely recovered with a baby daughter.

The new book that I am currently writing with totally different characters, features themes of alcoholism. mental illness, and infertility. The main character, Sarah Lloyd, is a children’s book illustrator this time instead of a librarian. She is having problems conceiving which causes stress on her marriage. I have a familiarity with this topic because it took me many years and some fertility treatments to conceive my daughter. Sarah’s mother, Jennifer Brewster, is the alcoholic in the book. While my experience with this topic is limited, I used my knowledge of alcoholic characters I’ve read about and seen portrayed on television. Without revealing the plot or other characters because the book is only in a draft stage, I will say my characters are different from those of “A Stone’s Throw” and my first self-published novel, “Cloudy Rainbow,” although there are some similarities.

I believe most authors put some of themselves in their main characters as well as other aspects of their personalities in non-leading characters. I’ve also found that, once you name a character and begin to feature that person in your book, they start taking on characteristics and motivations that often surprise you.

In case the descriptions of my characters have interested you, you might consider joining my mailing list for updates on my books and monthly contests for prizes at https://debbiedelouise.wordpress.com (just complete the pop-up newsletter form and confirm through the email you are sent). The next newsletter will be out on June 1st where I’ll be announcing the June contest and awarding the May prize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in A Stone's Throw, Authors, Books, Characters

My Character, Myself

characterimageI was asked to write a synopsis with a character-oriented focus to help my publisher create some cover copy for my upcoming book. While doing this, I began to reflect on how I created the varied characters, some major and some minor, in “A Stone’s Throw.” I think it’s pretty obvious that the librarian protagonist, Alicia Fairmont, is based on me. While she’s not identical in her personality or looks, there are some interesting similarities. When the story starts, she has been a librarian for 17 years. I’ve been one for over 20. She and her husband have been married 15 years without children. I had my daughter after 15 years of marriage. She has chestnut hair (some people consider my hair reddish brown), and she is quite stubborn (I’m a Taurus, need I say more?).

What about the rest of my characters? Going back to my previous analogy of authors giving birth to their book, I believe that their characters are their “babies” that grow throughout the story.  In an online Gale Course I am taking on Mystery Writing, I am learning about the protagonist’s and antagonist’s flaws. No one is perfect, and characters share the same imperfections as real people, so it makes sense that they are based on real people – whether it’s the author or a relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance of the author. A character can also be a composite of more than one person. Characters are then shaped by their experiences, both the back story and the continuing plot.

Some authors create detailed sketches of their characters before even adding them to their manuscripts (I wish I had been one of those). Like me, others create characters as they write. It often feels that the characters create themselves.

Another type of character that adds interest to a book is the pet character. As a member of the Cat Writer’s Association, I am familiar with cat and dog mysteries such as those written by Rita Mae Brown, Carole Nelson Douglas, Shirley Murphy, Lilian Jackson Braun, Amy Shojai and others. While the cat and dog characters in “A Stone’s Throw” don’t speak or solve mysteries by themselves, they play important roles. Sneaky, the Siamese who is the Cobble Cove library cat, is modelled after my 15-year old Siamese cat, Oliver. Fido, the old, overweight golden retriever, is just the perfect type of dog for 80 year old Mac.

The most important thing about a character is that a reader can relate to that person and finds the person interesting, not a flat caricature. I believe one of my strong points as a writer is the way I depict characters. I hope you will agree when you read “A Stone’s Throw.”