People fascinate me. The stories of people we encounter throughout an ordinary day could keep us all turning the pages well into our old age.
At their heart, most stories are about people. We follow our favorite characters from one scene to the next hoping they’ll finally make a good decision or, in some cases, live through the last chapter. We might hate the antagonist while we’re reading but if the writing’s good, he’s the reason you check the locks twice and make sure the alarm code is set. Characters…fictional people born in the mind of a writer, able to affect the actions of a reader. Crazy stuff.
The power of well written characters comes from their familiarity. The way they talk or handle adversity may remind us of someone we know or have met. You avoid the new guy at work because he has curly blonde hair and bad breath…just like the serial killer in the novel beside your bed. Best wait and see where the plot leads before inviting New Guy over for a barbeque because…well, you never know, right?
Often, we see pieces of ourselves in our favorite characters; who we really are or who we want to become. They inspire us and frustrate us, but we love them because our brains connect the invisible dots linking reality and fiction. Good writing traces those dots and leaves an image for the reader’s imagination to complete.
Every scene is like a one-way mirror into the lives of our favorite hero or villain and like the strange faux voyeurs most bookworms are, we can’t get enough of the really good or really bad ones. Real people, the building blocks of fictional characters.
In April I taught a writing/publishing class at the Chickamauga Public Library (my hometown, go Trojans!) and met a very nice lady by the name of Wanda Chapman. Wanda is working on a children’s book series and loves The Stand. That combo caught my attention. I love Stephen King, and I think children’s books are great. She’s also working on a novella and knows King’s short stories so yeah, she’s the bookish sort.
I read an early draft of one of her children’s stories and loved it. Small town adventures on a farm. Nothing extraordinary happened in the story. No monsters or superheroes, just a little boy picking blueberries with his family. What pulled me through the plot? That little boy was familiar. I spent many wonderful hours with my grandfather in his garden. Wanda’s story awakened those thirty-five-year-old memories…good memories that made me smile. Wanda agreed to let me share the story when it’s ready, and if it made me smile, I know it will some of you.
What are your thoughts on why characters affect us so much? Let me know in the comments or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.