Monday, January 09, 2012

Fully Realized Characters


Tucson

I have been giving this a lot of thought lately. What writers have been most successful in creating fully realized characters. People who could walk off a page. Ones you come to understand over the course of a book.

And in one book, not a series, which is easier to do, of course.

Memorable characters for me seem to share a common trait: stubbornness. Three recent women who leaped off the page were Mattie Ross in TRUE GRIT; Ree Dolly in WINTER'S BONE and Jane Eyre. All three are negotiating the world at a young age and have to be smart, cagey and determined to survive. They have a mission more important than finding a man or a career. Theirs are life and death issues.

What characters are memorable for you? Who walks off the pages of a book and into your memory?

31 comments:

Dana King said...

Chili Palmer 9GET SHORTY) comes to mind right away for me.

I agree completely with your list, especially Mattie Ross. She came alive so well I debated with myself whether she had Asperger's Syndrome, and had to remind myself she was as Portis wrote her. There's no point in guessing; she's not real.

le0pard13 said...

Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor from his series novels and Richard Matheson's Robert Neville from I AM LEGEND.

George said...

Travis McGee walks off the page. John D. MacDonald knew how to create characters readers would care about.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point, Dana. She does seem to overly smart, overly focused and dogged.
Jack Taylor and Travis jumped off the page from the first book. Loved the character of Robert Neville. And he had the story to himself.

Jerry House said...

Lou Ford from THE KILLER INSIDE ME on the evil side. Jack Taylor on the good side. Also, Nero Wolfe, as implausible as he is.

Anonymous said...

The half-breed John Russell in Elmore Leonard's Western HOMBRE stuck with me. Ree Dolly in WINTER'S BONE definitely, especially after we saw the movie. For a series, Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective (actually named Bill) feels real to me.

Ed Lynskey

Cap'n Bob said...

Mike Hammer. Sam Spade. Fat Ollie Weeks. Nameless. Amos Walker.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I do have to wonder how much I have been influenced by seeing all three of these characters in a movie.
Tough guys do stick with you.

Charles Gramlich said...

So many of John D. MacDonald's characters do that for me. More recently, Edward Grainger's "Cash."

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Huckleberry Finn, Lansdale's Hap & Leonard. Have to disagree with the Cap'n opn Mike Hammer who never struck me as anything but a caricature and a thugish one at that.

Anita Page said...

Denise Mina's Paddy Meehan.

Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge.

Stewart O'Nan's Emily, more so in Wish You Were Here than in Emily, Alone.

Dave Zeltserman said...

For a character who doesn't give you much of anything about his personal life (which he doesn't have much of), the Continental Op is about as fully realized as an main character in crime fiction.

Paul D Brazill said...

Charlie Williams' Royston Blake.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, Olive Kitteridge is a great selection. Strout looks at her from every angle. Brilliant. Love Hap and Leonard and even after one book, they jumped off the page. Emily, also brilliant but O'Nan is a master. I have the CONTINENTAL OP but have not read it. Shame.
Nor Charlie Williams. I am under read despite my best efforts.
Cash is a delight.

Dan_Luft said...

In a way none of these characters seems real to me. Travis McGee always struck me as a guy on the lookout for a cheap feel. Possibly Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. The narrator from The Sun Also Rises (can't remember name at the moment). My favorite characters are a little fake, a little crazed: Ahab, Raskolnikov, Garp, Mike Hammer, Stark's Parker. None of them is particularly realistic, but way more intense.

Rob Kitchin said...

Hap and Leonard walk off the page alright.

Larry Ott in Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, will stay me for a while. He is very well realised and has dignity and strength despite being put upon his whole life.

Emily Tempest in Adrian Hyland's Diamond Dove is a joy to read and bounces off the page - half white, half aboriginal living in the Australian outback.

I found Omar Yussef in Matt Benyon Rees books set in Palanstine a very memorable character - warm, humourous, principalled.

Frost in RD Wingfield - he's refreshingly un-PC, yet a decent copper.

I think the traits that work for me are grittiness, humour, reflexivity, self-deprication, resilience and being a little bit out of place.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Really interesting, Dan. Perhaps literary characters need to be larger than life to make an impression. People from the real world seldom are presented with dilemmas or situations so dire or heightened. Cool!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, Larry Ott for sure. How about Atticus Finch rather than his kid?
Or is he too noble, too perfect.
Ah, Frost. I liked that series but I only saw it on TV.
Are any characters created by Val McDermid more memorable than her? Same with Hemingway, Thompson, Kerouac. How often does the author outdo his/her creation?

Dave Zeltserman said...

Patti, the Op is also the main character in Red Harvest, arguably the best crime novel every written, and the Dain Curse, which is damn good.

Cap'n Bob said...

Hammer not only jumps off the page, he sinks his maulie into my breadbasket while he's out there.

Gerald So said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerald So said...

To me, perhaps as much as half the responsibility for realizing a character lies with the reader. Part of the writer's job is to give just enough detail to let the reader's imagination go the rest of the way.

Offhand I think of Holden Caulfield (CATCHER IN THE RYE) and Alonso Quijana (DON QUIXOTE) because they resonated with me and my experience when I first read them (in high school and college respectively).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point, Gerald. And I don't like too much physical description just for that reason. I almost included Holden. But since I hadn't read it since high school wasn't sure I hadn't embellished him over the years.
Have never read Red Harvest. I've got to stop reading things like THE ART OF FIELDING and stick with the bible.

Anonymous said...

Owen Parry's Abel Jones
Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce
Stuart Kaminsky's Porfiry Rostnikov and Emil Karpo
John Mortimer's Horace Rumpole
Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor
Lee Child's Jack Reacher
Tim Dorsey's Serge A. Storms

In single books, the aforementioned Mattie Ross is one. Can't believe no one mentioned John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius P. Reilly.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Also Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman, by the way.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There are an awful lot of men on this list. Flavia is memorable and the women seem to be children. No memorable femme fatales? What about the Barbara Stanwyck character in Double Indemnity. Can't remember her name.

Anonymous said...

Judith Van Gieson's rare book expert, Claire Reynier.
Michel

Anonymous said...

Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone
Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Grandma Mazur and (especially) Lula


Jeff M.

Cap'n Bob said...

Phyllis Dietrichson.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks!

Gerald So said...

I'll second Atticus Finch and add Shane.

The most enduring femme fatale for me is Cora Papadakis from James M. Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.