I am lured in by character. A fantastic scenario will tickle my imagination, a new civilization will prick my interest, an awe-inspiring setting will catch my eye, but if I don’t connect with the characters, I will be on to the next thing faster than a toddler with an – oh, look! A chicken!
That’s why Avatar will never make my top movie list. It was a beautiful film, a leap forward in movie technology, but the characters were hollow and trite and done a million times before – done better a million times before. That’s also why the well-known Thomas Covenant Chronicles by Stephen R. Donaldson leave me cold. Very purposefully, and with great skill, Mr. Donaldson has written Mr. Covenant as a self-involved jerk. Strangely, I don’t like self-involved jerks. And I don’t want to spend my free time with them.
But, if the character is right, if he or she has wit and angst and full frontal realism, it doesn’t take me long to fall in love.
Paul Atreides. Mr. Spock. Miles Vorkosigan. Dr. Daniel Jackson. Julie Barnes. Cal Leandros. Dr. Spencer Reid. Johnny Gage. Eponine. Menolly and Piemur of Pern. Ianto Jones.
Intriguing. Many-layered. Heroic in their own unique way. The back-story and emotional depth of these characters made me want to know them better, to read the next book, tune in to the next episode, and, more than anything, to find out what happened between the episodes, or after I’d turned the last page of the novel. I couldn’t always find it. Sometimes the show had been cancelled years ago. The author had died. My favorite character’s story was over.
Or was it?
One day I decided that, if the tv or novel writers wouldn’t help me out, I could darn well make it up for myself.
These characters, these well-loved, well-rounded men and women could live on in my pages – they could walk and talk, interact with their cohorts, have a home life, get injured or kidnapped or placed in mortal peril (my favorite!) only to be rescued – or to save the day – over and over again. I could play with characters already formed, already created and breathed into life by writers who knew what they were doing.
So, with all those characters looking over my shoulder and giving me encouraging pats and nods, it should be duck soup to create my own balanced, cohesive, compelling characters to interact with them, or to fill out an original story all by themselves, right? Right?
Next time, an introduction to Mary Sues I have known and loved.