On creating vivid characters, plus a link or two more

25Aug09

Over at The National Post, Philip Marchand has an interesting article about the challenge of creating vivid characters, and the possibility it has become a lost art. There’s some discussion about first person narration versus third person narration, with novelist and critic Mary McCarthy commenting, “All fictions, of course, are impersonations, but it seems to me somehow less dubious to impersonate the outside of a person — say, Mrs. Micawber with her mysterious ‘I will never leave Mr. Micawber’ — than to claim to know what it feels like to be Mrs. Micawber.”

I think rather than less dubious I might suggest that declining to drop the reader directly into the head of a character can mean a more enigmatic, more fascinating character, at least to a reader who enjoys the challenge of trying to understand him. Third person narration can be seen as a little quaint these days, but after all, it’s how we respond to the world — readers have spent their entire lives observing people and trying to come to reasonable conclusions. First person narration strikes me as challenging — valid and real-feeling if done well, but very easy to do poorly.

In other book news, glad to see that Obama is apparently on vacation reading Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America, and a recent review of Drood, by Dan Simmons (a novel featuring Charles Dickens) begins with a very compelling first paragraph:

“On June 9, 1865, Charles Dickens was returning from a trip to Paris, traveling by train from Folkestone to London. As the train approached the river Beult near Staplehurst, the rail viaduct spanning the river collapsed. Incredibly, the engine was able to jump the 45-foot gap between the rails, but six of seven private passenger cars fell to the swampy riverbed below. Dickens was seated in the one private car that was spared. Descending to the crash victims, the great English writer witnessed scenes of death and carnage that would haunt him for the remaining five years of his life.” Read the rest here.

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