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For Me, It’s Always About the Characters

The definitions of characterization are “the creation or construction of a fictional character” or “a description of the distinctive nature or features of someone or something”. After I got past the overuse of “c”, “d” and “s” words, I decided the second definition is the one I like best.

I read fiction for many reasons but the main one is my attraction to or identification with one or more of the characters. If I can’t identify with the main character especially, I don’t finish the book. Typically, I give the author three chapters to draw me in. Some call me picky, but my philosophy is “too many books, too little time”.

Plot is also high on my list but the characters make or break my enjoyment of the story. The following are some of the best examples of well-written characters in the books I have read, and yes, I highly recommend you read these books, if only for the methods used by the authors to imprint these people in your mind.

One of the more current characters I like is Aaron Falk, brought to life by Jane Harper in her debut The Dry. Falk appeared again in Force of Nature and Exiles, her latest book. Falk is a federal agent who solves crimes that have often gone unsolved for months or years and he succeeds by looking at the circumstances of those crimes from a different perspective. While the mystery aspect of Harper’s stories is strong and well-written, I find Falk the draw. His humanity, his deliberate review of the crime scene and suspects, even his slight lack of confidence in his personal feelings and relationships—all these traits pull me in. Aaron kept me reading Exiles until the early morning hours and trust me, I don’t stay up until 4 a.m. for just anyone.

Another character I can’t forget is the father in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I confess I’m normally not a fan of a post-apocalyptic story of survival featuring cannibals and the possible death of the main character. However, McCarthy does such an unbelievable job with his main character, the man with no name, that I read the book three times, so far. With my first reading, I was intrigued by the unusual way it was written. None of the characters have names and the conversations between the father and son throughout the book are not set apart with your typical dialogue quotation marks. By the time I finished the book, I was convinced dialogue didn’t need quotation marks. Also, at the end of the story, I knew why I read a book I typically would not have read. The father’s love for his son transcended all the bad in their dying world. Again, McCarthy’s portrayal of a single character, a man who would not give up on his journey to take his son somewhere that “might” allow the child to live, was the key that kept me reading.

Grace Marks, of Alias Grace, written by Margaret Atwood, still lingers in my memory even though I read the book twenty-five years ago. The story was a fictional rendition of a true crime that occurred in Canada in 1843, the murders of a wealthy farmer and his housekeeper by two servants, James McDermott, and Grace Marks. If you read or write historical fiction, injected with elements of mystery, this is a beautiful example of the genre. The character of Grace is drawn in a compelling, even confusing, light, in both the real and fictional stories. Was she insane, did she suffer from dissociative amnesia, or did McDermott threaten her to commit the crimes they were both convicted of? The plot centers around Grace and I found myself believing her and distrusting her from one page to the next. In my next life, I want Ms. Atwood’s brain.

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