Good Characters—Day 4

I guess the next element that helps make a character memorable as well as engaging would be self-awareness.

A character who knows he has weaknesses and wants to change, who recognizes what he needs, not just externally but internally, and goes out to get it. This quality makes it possible for him to see others more accurately, as well. When he admires another character, I trust his assessment. When he is wary, I am too.

Sometimes, of course, the protagonist might be missing something that would give him an accurate opinion of another character. That doesn’t really weaken my trust in him or her.

A good example of this is the heroine in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzy (a book—set in 18th century revolutionary France—I highly recommend for those of you who like historicals).

Lady Maguerite Blakeney was known as “the cleverest woman in Europe,” and yet, after marrying into a wealthy English family finds herself in a situation she had not bargained for:

And Marguerite could not speak to her brother about the secrets of her heart; she hardly understood them herself, she only knew that, in the midst of luxury, she felt lonely and unhappy.

Her self-awareness, among other traits, makes her endearing, but she ends up being as wrong as she could be.

I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling the story.

BTW, a warning. This book, as are many of the classics, is written in the omniscient POV. It’s a masterful piece of writing that allows the reader to shift smoothly from an intimate understanding, first of one character, then of another, all within the same scene. There is no feeling of “head hopping” nor any sense of distance unless the author intends it.

Too bad contemporary fiction looks down on that mode of writing.

Published in: on October 19, 2006 at 11:58 am  Comments (3)  
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