If you don't care what happens to the characters the story is pretty much dead in the water, no matter how promising the plot.
As I develop my characters in Africa, surrounded by old and inspiring friends who may well, unbeknownst to them, lend their own attributes to my fictional friends, I'm thinking about characters in fiction that have moved me. Either to adore them to the point where I haven't wanted to finish the book because to remain present in their literary lives is far better than to feel bereft in their absence. Or to react to a character with such disdain that the book is flung impatiently aside and abandoned.
In my childhood, Anne (of Green Gables) was prissy and boring. Fling.
Pippi Longstocking, on the other hand, captured my imagination with her stripey tights and her pluck, dashing off on endless adventures with her motley crew of mates, orange plaits agape in her wake.
In high school, inspired by the heroine Tess (she of the D'Urbervilles), it frustrated me no end that Thomas Hardy should pair such a treasure with the limp, insipid, gormless Angel. Pfft.
The only reason I watched the entire movie Alfie (the Jude Law remake) was because I was trapped on an aeroplane with a TV screen two inches from my nose and couldn't walk out or turn it off. His title character was vile. He started out as an arrogant arse, played with peoples' emotions, flung them recklessly aside until they were fractured shadows of their former selves, then went on to have a miserable life. End of story. Huh? What's the point?
If the characters have no substance, there's no reason for the reader to empathise with them or become emotionally engaged.
Some of my all-time favourites from fiction whose appeal I'm contemplating are:
- Atticus Finch and Scout La Rue, To Kill A Mockingbird
- Troubled but gutsy Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
- The cast of country characters island-bound during WWII in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
- Grotesque and depraved but strangely sensitive and fragile, Grenouille, from Perfume
- All time gun-slinging, quick-drawing Annie Oakley, the wildest cowgirl in the West, who burst into the testosterone world of cowboys and Indians, matching them on her horse and confounding them with her femine wiles and sweet-girl glamour
I'd love to know what you think. Who are the characters that have stuck in your heart and mind, and why?