Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Characters, what makes them loveable

Over here at the Mad Genius Club, Writers Division, we've been talking about what makes characters memorable.

I like odd ball characters who have to battle incredible odds like Lois Mcmaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan. Why? His body might be damaged and weak but his spirit is indomitable.

I like Joe Abercrombie's torturer in The Blade Itself. Just when you begin to feel empathy for him, Joe reveals something even more horrible about him. Yet he is a fascinating character.

If I find myself thinking about characters after I finish the book, then they have come to life for me.

What characters come to life for you?


Flinthart said...

To me, one of the great triumphs of 'The Master And Margharita' is the way Bulgakov works his characters. I mean -- one of the sub-plots is the face-to-face history/story of Pilate and Jesus meeting. And despite the immense cultural weight on both those characters, Bulgakov makes them both marvellous. Pilate is intensely human - sad, intellectual, lonely, trapped, desperate for simple kindnesses, but forced to destroy Jesus anyway.

The portrayal of Jesus himself is possibly even better. He's never a POV character, but through Pilate's eyes, you see him: kindly, keenly intelligent, incredibly naive, gentle, infinitely curious... and yet despite apparently stripping Jesus of the mantle of divinity, the whole novel aims to RESTORE the reputation of both the Divine, and the damned.

Bulgakov's Satan/Woland is a marvel, and his entourage of demons is brilliant. I don't think anyone else has ever done such a job of converting such mythic figures into believable, empathetic, vividly human characters.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Okay, now I have to take a look at this. According to my quick google Bulgakov wrote the book in 1940 and it wasn't published until 1966.

Wouldn't be awful never to meet people who could see the world the way you see it?

maxine.mcarthur said...

I recently read Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains, which features characters who are...not 'nice' people, to say the least, but by god they were riveting to read about. Afterwards I realised that the story and setting is not as amazing as I thought (although it's pretty darn good), but it was the characters who had carried me through the book. I'm even going to sit down soon and re-read it, which I usually don't do for a couple of years after the first read. I'm trying to think why the characters appealed so much--inner conflict, I suppose. And many facets to each character, meaning that even at the end of the book, I still wasn't quite sure what each one would do. Like we don't know what each of us would do in a crisis until we meet one.

Am off to find Bulgakov too.

Flinthart said...

The story behind TMAM is amazing. It was written, IIRC, in 1938 and smuggled out of Stalinist Russia. It is, in part, an absolutely scathing - but hilarious - satire of the Communist Party's approach to 'controlling' literature, and also of the social world of Moscow at the time. Given its highly sympathetic treatment of religious figures, it's astonishing it was ever written at that time, let alone eventually published... and even that matter is caught up inside the structure and the themes of the novel.

It is one of the most wonderfully readable, funny, sad, and deeply clever books I've ever encountered. I prefer the Michael Glenny translation, because I think the humour works best there - but in all honesty, I've yet to see a translation that doesn't work well.

Bulgakov -- yeah. Tough times, back then. He wound up as the director of the Moscow Theatre for a while, I think, and there's evidence that Joe Stalin had a bit of a soft spot for him, which could explain why he survived such dangerous times.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Maxine, the only Richard Morgan I've read is Altered Carbon. That was a couple of years ago and I remember feeling a little detached from the characters. But I'd be willing to give him another go.

Dirk, when you look at how we live in Australia we are so lucky.