Saturday, 7 June 2008

Heroes and Villains

The characters in my fiction almost always come from within my mind; they represent disparate aspects of my personality, and I think this is quite normal for a writer. How else can you know how they think and feel?

My friend Alan Hutcheson agrees, and says even his cold ruthless killer Leslie in Boomerang has some Alan in him.

The result is that I like all of my characters, even the horrible ones; I know their redeeming features and why they are the way they are and do what they do. And I think this is what makes the reader engage with fictional people.

I dislike white and black characters. Superman - boringly virtuous. Voldemort - boringly evil. Bring on the rich and subtle shades of grey; Alan Breck Stewart - a fascinatingly flawed goodie. William Elliot - an intelligent and witty baddie. Give me heroes who trip over while rushing to the heroine's aid, and villains that impressionable teenage girls will secretly want to redeem.

Don't tell me what to think. Let me decide that Fanny Price, though the heroine, is a pain, and Henry Crawford is better off without her.

Much more fun.


  1. Interesting post, Lexi. I think most characters are bound to have some aspect of their author's personality in them - but I know for a good number of mine I've drawn from people I know or make up. All characters are mixtures, aren't they?

    And yes, they definitely need to be real. They need to get a reaction from the reader, to make them want to find out what happens to them.

    Interesting stuff, as ever.


  2. A friend says she always starts with people she knows, and works from there. I've got the odd attribute of people I know in some of my characters - and one minor character is almost entirely Prince Edward at the time of It's a Royal Knockout.

    Not sure about making people up - I bet they've got a lot of Nik in them, if you dig deep!

  3. Hmm, I can see the logic in what your friend does, and if it works then cool. I'm not sure I'd be able to do that though because real people, or at least the ones I know, aren't really interesting enough. I think the important thing is to have something believable and real about a character's personality, so where a writer gets that from doesn't really matter.

    As for my characters having a bit of me in them - only the good ones! ;) (That, of course, isn't true.)


  4. I was thinking about my friends and acquaintances, and I realized I simply don't know enough about what's going on in their heads to appropriate them as characters in my novels.

    I wouldn't say they aren't interesting enough - who knows what secret lives they have?

    Do we really know anyone except ourselves?

  5. I see what you mean. I wasn't being disrespectful of anyone but, people we know, as we know them, are who they are. And while we can use parts of them to form characters I personally think it's more fun, and offers more freedom, to make people up. There's bound to be traces of real people in every character (that's part of what makes them memorable et al) and is absoultely how it should be. I think I'm just saying this because I don't do what your friend does, if that makes sense.


  6. They say no one recognizes himself in a novel, unless the author has given him the same job, age, hair colour and similar name, so unfamiliar are we with how other people see us.

    I'd love to be in a novel, even one written by an enemy where I was a total baddie.

    Lady Diana Cooper was in half a dozen, lucky her.

  7. Ha! Well, I think we all have an idea of how we think, or how we'd like people to perceive us!


  8. Boringly virtuous, boringly evil . . . No, don't think so. It's a fact worth pondering that truly virtuous characters are almost always boring, yet truly vicious characters almost never. To take some examples from Dickens, compare Oliver Twist with Fagin, Nicholas Nickleby with Wackford Squeers, David Copperfield with Uriah Heep.

    There is no good at all in Fagin, Squeers or Heep, yet all have become bywords for their individual types of evil . . .

    In fact, I think I've just got it. How would this fit (with due apologies to Tolstoy)? All good characters resemble one another, each bad character is bad in his own way.

    Just thought of that as I wrote. It made me feel clever for a moment. And then it came to me that it's probably been observed a thousand times before.

    Now I feel as stupid as ever. And it's your fault.

  9. Okay, Iain, I'm convinced by your examples. Uriah Heep is a clincher. But you must admit Voldemort is tediously nasty.

    Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm are virtuous and interesting. And, returning to Dickens, the incredible but engaging Esther Summerson.

    But not Little Dorrit, Little Emily or Agnes, who are just annoying.

  10. Frodo Baggins is a tremendously interesting good character. Sam Gamgee even more so.

    Sauron, on the other hand, is just a plain old poop.

  11. Great minds - I would have mentioned Sauron had I been able to remember his name - the chap in Mordor was the nearest I could get without looking it up.

    Not sure about Sam and Frodo. It's a very long time since I hacked my way through TLOTR.