Monday, July 9, 2012

Such a Character!

As a reader, I’m character driven. That doesn’t mean a plot can be half-assed or badly planned and executed, or that the setting can be cardboard, but that I read for the people involved in the plot, not the plot itself.  I love getting into the heads of characters and following them from one incident to the next. I want to get to know them, faults and all. I even enjoy learning about the bad guys and their motivations. I read novels to be entertained, and part of that entertainment is learning how people tick. It doesn't matter if a book is funny, an international thriller or a slice of life.
Specifically, I love coming of age books. Take two of my all-time favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Yearling. I read both in high school and have re-read them since. Both continue to speak to me. In To Kill a Mockingbird, while the trial of a wrongfully accused black man is the focal point, the real story is the coming of age of Scout Finch. We follow her as the innocence of childhood is lifted to reveal people and events as they really are. Page after page, our own innocence is challenged as Scout grows and exhibits her own brand of youthful wisdom.
The Yearling is a similar type of book. Yes, it is about the relationship of a young, poor boy and a fawn named Flag, but more importantly, it is about Jody’s journey from dependent child to manhood as he is called upon to make a very adult sacrifice.
Last year I read the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, gobbling all three down in a single week. It could be argued that those books were plot driven, and maybe they were, but for me the development of the three main characters – Katniss, Peeta and Gale – were what drove the book on against a horrific backdrop.
Simply put, if a book does not have great character development, I lose interest quickly and am more likely to dump the book before finishing it. I look for and want characters that stick with me long after the book is finished.  
Hands down, my favorite mysteries when it comes to character is Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins series. Not only is Easy Rawlins one of the best characters in modern fiction, but all the characters in that series, no matter how small a part they play, are superbly drawn. Reading Mosely’s books is like taking an advance class on character development.
And I love learning from the masters.

2 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

You're so right! Intricate plots are terrific fun while I'm reading, but the characters are what always stick with me as well...

gregkshipman said...

Dear 'My Queen of Characters'

You have hit upon the thing that drives me to read; unique characters. Easy Rawlins is one of my favorites because he's a walking, talking, breathing example of a real person. He's not a detective, he's a person hustling to make a living, avoid trouble (ain't happening) and seek out those everyday things we all seek. He wants a house, gets a 'sorta' family, interacts with friends and foe and has the backdrop of a 'real' world. Moseley gives us the right to slip into 'real skin'... Oh Wait... ding the dong... Ain't we talkin' 'bout Odelia too?!?