On Characters

I’m always looking for examples of three-dimensional characters in books. I mean, that’s what the writing books tell you to write, but what do they look like? In the past couple of weeks I’ve read two books that have these characters in abundance: Also the Hills by Frances Parkinson Keyes and The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy.

For me, a three-dimensional character is one that comes alive. The person is no longer confined to the page. It is someone I know so well that I imagine someday I will pass that person in a mall or at a restaurant. I’ll recognize them, have to stop myself before I speak. But it goes beyond the physical even. I find myself wondering about that person, as if they lived and breathed, wondering what their future holds (or held.)

Those are the characters I want to in my own books. People that leap from black and white into glorious Technicolor, that linger in the reader’s mind for days, weeks, years to come. Characters as complex as people really are, whose decisions and feelings make sense in the context of their past, their culture, their place in time.

If I ever make it to Ireland, I imagine Kit and Clio, Helen and Martin and Maura will be everywhere. If I visit New Hampshire, I know I’ll spy the Farman family and their neighbors—or at least the remnants of them—in some small villiage. They will be old by now, having lived their youth during WWII.

So I read on—making new friends, re-acquainting myself with old ones. And I return to my own work-in-progress inspired.

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