Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Liking, Loving, and loathing ~ a discussion of Character

One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man.
   ~Fyodor Dostoevsky
 "..fictional characters must be loved in order to become real, real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood."

How do we create loveable characters. Nearly every writer speaks in a voice that is not entirely her own - playing a role, creating a character. Generally, we want that character to be loved, to be embraced by the reader. With a challenging character, one full of flaws, it's not always an easy task, and our success varies with the reader. Characters like Humbert (Lolita) or Fyodor Pavlovich (The Brothers Karamazov) are easy to relate to as a reader because they're so unloveable, we relate to them as we would any villain; but other characters can cause trouble. 

Like most people, we often see personality clashes, misunderstandings, and other small resentments creep up between character and reader, with mistakes made on both sides. I can easily forgive Mitya (The Brothers Karamazov) his debaucheries, his temper, and his misdirected life because I love him; but I don't give the same leyway to Harry (Harry Potter) regarding his temper, petty cruelties, and mis-steps.  Why? I don't feel the friendship towards him that I feel toward Mitya. I am unforgiving without a second thought. Perhaps in part because of the writer's skill - it's unfair to compare Dostoevsky, whose greatest strength is in his characters, and Rowling - but more likely it's a difference of presentation. Rowling labels Harry as a hero, with a strong heart and an deep ability to love, so the flaws are jarring and harder for me to overlook. Mitya is shown as something of a wretch, his flaws blend into the background and his virtues stand out to me.  But each reader's response will be different. A reader may be reminded of a friend by Harry, and so forgive him, or overlook his flaws in light of his virtues, he may find Mitya's sins overwhelming, he might love them both.  Jenna, I know, is a friend of Harry's, and I can't help but see him in a better light for that friendship. It helps characters to have good friends on the outside, in order to allow them a chance to, as Jenna says, "become real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood".

When we write, we have to start with love - by forming a character, knowing him, loving him, and then sharing him with the world, not as creature out our own imagination, but as a friend, a child - proud of who he is, and confident in his ability to find love on his own, even amid hostility, misunderstanding, and his own inevitable flaws.

1 comment:

  1. Aww, I love it. Great defense of Mitya, who definitely has a touch of likability about him despite his multitudinous problems. I'd never really thought about it; I loved Alyosha so much I don't have as strong of a memory of my impression of Mitya. But reading this post gave me a rush of affection for him. ;)

    I'd write up a whole response about why I love Harry--and oh, do I ever--but I think I'll save it for Monday. :D