Good books to read have more ingredients than a Christmas pudding but a staple is the great characters that are woven into the story. Two questions I’m asked frequently are:- How did you come across your characters? and How was it living with them in your brain when you were writing your book, Trader Bob?
Initially I set out to write a rather dark book with characters that were evil, not good and bad – just bad and worse. I think this cynical standpoint came from a career commenting on the commercial world that is driven by the greed of capitalism and all the corruption and bullying manipulation it fosters. I needed conflict to create suspense, I had been told, and my protagonists would be two beastly captains of industry who cared nothing for the rest of the human race and measured themselves against each other. Who had the bigger pile of filthy lucre? Who wielded the greater power over politicians and bureaucrats?
Yet when I stepped out of the commercial world and began observing the human condition at large, I discovered some miserable poor creatures for sure, but there were others who were wonderfully happy and contented with their lot. They were the ones with low expectations. It was only the rat race that caused unhappiness. Even some captains of industry were relative saints who treated their workers well and looked for good works on which to spend their wealth without thought of reward.
So I set about creating real, complex characters who were not black & white silhouettes but colorful people with opposing genes and the luck of whatever upbringing fortune thrust on them. This was my mission if my work was to rank among the good books to read.
Aspects of my original characters became just a part of the mix. Often I used experience to add an aspect of a real person I have known into the mix of a character in the book. Thus any one character can be drawn from many small aspects of different people I have known, plus imagination: a mix of imagination and experiences from many different sources. Therefore no one can say they are in the book. But little bits of any one person I’ve known may be spread across many characters. I’m indebted to lots of the people I’ve met in my life. They’ve helped me to produce a good book to read, I hope and believe.
Writing good books to read
I know from living with my characters when writing the book that, the way they were constructed, none of them is the same as any person I’ve known. But I came to know these fictional characters, too. They would play out what was going to happen next without much overt direction from me. I could see the action in my mind and only had to transcribe it to the page. It could seem as though they had a life of their own, but of course it was just in my imagination. On occasion it happened so easily, like a daydream, that I wondered if it was in my subconscious mind rather than at the conscious level.
Sometimes they needed polishing, by adding humour, wryness or other qualities to point up a situation.
In this way I feel my characters were rounded out. But I think of them now on two levels. First l want them to seem real. I want my readers to feel as though the story is taking place in the real world. Secondly, the story has to operate on a fictional level so that the reader doesn’t feel threatened. In the back of their minds readers need to know it isn’t real but at the same time there has to be a feeling of reality for the story to work. It must not seem like fairyland.
In good books to read I feel that well drawn characters achieve this dual role. These characters are, indeed, in my good books.