Haunting Characters

Good characters should haunt you. They should linger with you long after you’ve finished the novel. If a character has been written correctly, you should see traces of them in the people you meet day to day. Perhaps your mother has a similar laugh or your friend at work has that same habit.

Whatever it is, you see it.

The whole purpose of writing is to expose humanity, to dredge through all the nonsense we fill our lives with and highlight the different aspects of being human. We remember characters precisely because they echo our humanity and we identify with them. That’s why it is so hard when we see them struggling or when one of them perishes in the novel.

Jem Carstairs and Will Harindale from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series always pop to my mind when I see my son playing with his friends. I want him to have that kind of friendship, the kind that hooks deep and shapes who you are. He’s only nine, so he doesn’t understand any of that, but I do.

Elizabeth Bonner from Sara Donati’s Into the Wild constantly challenges me to stand firm in what I believe and not to shy away from hardship. I tend to read this one every spring. There’s something about the descriptions that lets me breathe deep of another time and place.

Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series reminds me that men and women are very different, and it helps me to communicate and better understand my significant other. And I do mean the books, not the show. Although I’ve enjoyed the show quite a bit too.

My own characters are harder to pin down here. They are essentially part of who I am, even the bad ones, so they haunt me quite a lot. Some of them, such as Liana from the upcoming novel Usurper, are difficult for me to understand and I find myself lingering over her more often than the others.

I’ve come to the point in my life where I recognize that a lot of my writing is an effort to know people. If you’ve ever said; “Ugh, I just don’t know why people are like that.” Or “I will never understand people like that.” Then you know what I mean. I write to understand, and I understand more with every character I write.

My current work in progress, a fantasy revolving around a world divided by war, was originally going to be written with just two voices. My protagonists are both from the poorer faction of society, the slaves/servants, and the outline has them surging through all the prejudice and hate in the effort to bring about peace. But I realized early on that I could not tell a story about forging peace without bringing to light the other side of society.

Thus, I added two more voices to the book. One is a high-ranked official in the government who is working hard to keep things as they are. The other is a lower ranked official who has very good reason to hate the people he is subjugating. Through these two voices, the book is shaping into something a bit more meaningful and, while there is a part of me that will never understand the desire to keep people in slavery, I do understand the fear these men have.

Not merely a fear of losing power, but a fear of losing their homes and their families. With bitterness on both sides of the war, it is hard to imagine that anything less would be done to them and theirs should they lose.

Characters linger, they teach us and help us to see the world we are living in for what it is. And they help us cope, reminding us that humanity is more complicated than good versus evil. Check out what characters haunt my fellow authors in this month’s Round Robin Discussion…

Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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5 thoughts on “Haunting Characters

  1. You comment “The whole purpose of writing is to expose humanity” rings true, and the story underneath the obvious story, often about society, is sometimes the most important. I think thoughtful readers look for this.

  2. I never start out to reveal things about humanity, but somewhere along the line I am suddenly struck by some truism that I’d never contemplated before. In my book, Healing a Hero, I have a hero who is an even-tempered man who never loses his cool, under fire in battle or with people, yet suddenly he is shouting at the hero, knowing he’s lost control, but unable to stop himself and I had to stop and consider why he was suddenly acting like this. Turned out he’d been hurt and this was his way of reacting to that hurt. Which, of course, is often the case, we get hurt and lash out in anger because it’s easier than admitting our own vulnerability.

  3. Yours is a very thought provoking post. I don’t often consider the psychology of my characters, but I do like to ensure that what they do and say is feasible for them even though they can, and do, display out of character traits at times.

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