Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Characters Wanted

She must be more than just a chambermaid.
My critique partner once asked me to choose my favorite books and figure out what about them drew me. What did the author do that made it a great book?  It has been hard for me to pinpoint any one thing. I love the setting, the story, the passion... I even the love costuming.  In short, I love everything.  How does that help me determine my own style? It doesn't.  I needed to pinpoint something that made my favorite books, the ones I can read over an over again, a notch above the rest.

I finally started reading When Beauty Tamed the Beast.  It has been on my shelf for over a month and I just have not had time.  Luckily (or unluckily) the need for dental work gave me some quiet reading time and I am loving this book.  This is not a surprise as I have loved every Eloisa James book I have read.  What is significant about this book is that it helped me realize what it is that draws me in to her stories.

The characters.

I immediately get a sense of who all the players are.  I mean ALL the players.  No character is too minor to be developed. I remember their names long after the book is finished.  I want to know what happens next.  They are each distinctive, very real and yet larger than life.  This is what I expect when I pick up an Eloisa James novel, and she has yet to let me down.

This holds true for the movies and TV shows I enjoy -- they have characters that are so much more than an archetype.  The USA network promotes their shows as being character driven and, in many cases, this is true.  The Closer would be just another cop show without each distinctive member of the Major Crimes team. 

Am I making all of my characters real? Distinctive? Memorable? Obviously that is something that is important to me. I look for it in other books, so I should apply it in my own work. But I think I cut corners. The periphery characters are just that, fuzzy and off to the side.  They exist because I will them to and serve a function, but my focus is on my main and supporting cast.  Although this realization means extra work on my part, I do not begrudge it if it makes my story higher quality.

What, specifically, about your favorite books make them stand above the rest?  Do you look for that in your own writing?


Raquel Byrnes said...

Your critique partner is no doubt wicked-smart and for no apparent reason, devastatingly beautiful. =)
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Unknown said...

Characters are pretty important to me as well. I love it when I get an idea of how walk on characters live their lives even when they aren't a major part of the plot.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Yep, it's characters for me, too. Even in my TV shows. Like NCIS. I love the characters on that show. We used to watch CSI:NY (because I love Gary Sinese), but after awhile I realized it was about the procedures, not the people. I couldn't name half the characters on the show, yet they were there every week. I finally gave it up.

So hopefully my books have memorable characters. I try not to litter them with too many though. They all have their purpose.

Kathleen said...

I agree with you Erin! I have only read one Eloisa James book, but now that you've recommended her, I will try another. I always go to a new author so reluctantly...What's wrong with me? Am I really so risk adverse? Right now, I'm working my way through Lisa Kleypas' catalog. She, too, focuses on character development and her characters are often flawed, which I like. I just finished "An Unlikely Countess" by Jo Beverley which had two fairly unlikable lead characters...The heroine, in fact, was so bitter and whiny, I almost stopped reading it. However, the characters grew better by being together! That made the book satisfying in the end. In romance, characters are what makes or breaks it...the plot doesn't much matter if the characters are good!

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