Tag Archives: Fictional Characters

Such Character

I’ve met many interesting characters in the novels I’ve read this year:

ANGELA in The Wife by Alafair Burke. She is memorable because she is not what she seems. Truly an example of the unreliable narrator.

ANNA in The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. So neurotic, but…wait…what else is going on with this character? This is a richly developed portrait of a damaged individual.

DANA in Kindred by Octavia Butler. She is a fiercely determined woman who seeks to right what is wrong but against tremendous odds.

ROY in An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. He is an African American male who is unjustly accused and incarcerated. He is a survivor.

TOMAS in The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. He is a philandering husband and a hedonist, but one who loves his daughter and risks his life to protect her.

MARGOT in The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. Obstinate, reckless, and immature, Margot, a teen, learns the hard way that the choices we make can set us off on the wrong course.

LAURA in Love Field by Virginia Alanis. She is impressive, because unlike Margot, she tries to make the right choices, but when she doesn’t, she recognizes her mistake and alters her course. She is wise beyond her seventeen years.

These are the characters that have stood out the most in the novels I’ve read so far this year. I look forward to meeting more before the year is over.

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Characters

Author Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is one of my favorite fictional characters; but after reading Boar Island, her latest, I’ve come to realize that perhaps Anna is fading into the background in these books. Maybe Barr has explored the character as much as she could, and now a happy Anna is simply not the compelling heroine she once was. Anna has resolved her issues with alcohol and overcome the severe depression she suffered after her young husband’s death. A happy character doesn’t necessarily make such an interesting read.

I love character-driven fiction. I recently got to thinking about fictional characters I’ve met this year that made stories so much better because of their individual quirkiness, temperament, or sense of pathos. Following is a list of such characters, in no particular order.

Lauren Oya Olamina (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler): A young woman who through her strength of character leads a group of survivors in dystopian California to seek a better life.

Mike and Frankie Flannery (Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan): Two orphans who suffer such hardships that Mike can no longer bring himself to hope. Yet Frankie’s sweetness and optimism remain intact.

Juniper Song (the star of Steph Cha’s mysteries): A young private eye who is older than her years. Similar to early Anna Pigeon, she struggles with loss and alcohol.

Ana FaNelli (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll): Ani’s air of sophisticated snobbishness masks a painful past.

Frey and McGray (private detectives in Oscar Muriel’s mystery series): These guys make a funny, entertaining pair, a bromance. Frey comes off as too prissy for the kind of work he does, but paired with the wild and crazy Scot, McGray, the team works.

Shirley (Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell) Though she’s in a novel, Shirley is not fictional. The character is the fascinating real-life writer, Shirley Jackson. Merrell brings her back to life with stark realism.

Antonia (My Antonia by Willa Cather): A woman who epitomizes the immigrant experience, yet she is no stereotype.

 

The Armchair Protagonist

I am an armchair protagonist. I watch a lot of movies, TV shows, and read a lot of fiction. I’m usually able to put myself in the characters’ minds, empathize with their feelings. But sometimes I can’t. Recently my husband, John, and I watched a detective story. The hero was trying to track down a serial killer who was hiding out in victims’ homes before pouncing on them unexpectedly and committing murder. A couple was in bed, turning out the lights, when they heard a noise upstairs. The husband got out of bed, went upstairs, met the killer who proceeded to kill the guy and push his head through the floor. The victim’s wife, still in bed, listened to the rumbling sounds upstairs, and screamed when her husband’s head came crashing through the ceiling. This whole time I was thinking, Why doesn’t she run out of the house and/or call the police? Instead the woman was frozen in fear.

Time and again, especially with horror movies, I watch characters fail to take appropriate, practical steps to save their lives. They’ll run the wrong direction or freeze and wait as the killer (or sometimes a ghost) approaches and ultimately takes them out. In the meantime, I’m saying, Do something!! The truth is, I don’t know what I would do if pursued by a ghost or a killer. I like to think I would be brave and act quickly, but how can I be sure of that? We all react differently to stress. I think it’s up to the writer to put the reader in the character’s head, to understand her reactions and motivations, so we’re not surprised with the actions she ultimately takes.

I just read my first JoJo Moyes novel, The Last Letter for Your Lover. It’s a very entertaining story of star-crossed lovers who somehow keep narrowly missing their connection and can never seem to be in the right place at the right time.. There is another character who appears in the second half of the book who is romantically involved with a married man. At first I had difficulty understanding why she would waste her time with a guy I considered a complete jerk, but eventually I came to understand her motivations. The author did a good job of helping me “get” the character and why she was letting herself be used by the jerk. That’s how a reader ultimately comes to care for the protagonist. You can’t really empathize with a character if you don’t understand what motivates her.

What a Character

Scarlett O’Hara, Harry Potter, Philip Marlowe, Jane Eyre, Mr. Darcy . . . All are memorable fictional characters, so familiar to us that one might know who they are without even having read the books that made them famous. I have a preference for character-driven novels and have met many intriguing personalities through my readings.

I think if I were to be the heroine in a novel, it would probably put the reader to sleep. I’ve led a much too normal life; I’ve never married a guy who was already married to a lunatic he kept hidden in the attic, made a dress out of drapes because I was too poor to buy one, or struggled with my identity as a wizard. But even more than the hurdles that fictional folks have to surmount, they need personal attributes that make them intriguing, and they certainly don’t have to be likable. When I read Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, I was so angry at the weak-willed hero, Philip Carey, that I wanted to reach into the pages and bitch slap some sense into him. But that’s what well-written characters can do–elicit a strong emotional reaction from the reader.

Here are some of my favorite fictional characters: mystery writer Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon (a-troubled-recovering-alcoholic-park-ranger-murder-solver), Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch (a-troubled-Vietnam-vet-turned-cop-semi-alcoholic-insomniac), Diana Gabaldon’s Claire Fraser (stubborn-time-traveling-sometime-bigamist-war-nurse-healer), and Adriana Trigiani’s Ave Maria Mulligan Machesney (a-one-time-longtime-single-insecure-wise-cracking-small-town-Italian-American-Southerner). Though I wouldn’t necessarily want to hang with these people in real life, they make for some fascinating reading.