Saturday, January 12, 2013

What a Character!

Rising from the mists of imagination, the character took shape
     There are many elements that go into writing a great piece of fiction.  Although I will not go so far as to say that characterization is THE most important element of a story, I will say it's doggone important.  Especially to me.  Think about your favorite books, movies, t.v. shows.  What engaged you?  What kept you reading / watching? What do you remember most about them? Why do you keep watching a t.v. series?  Why do you re-read a book or watch a movie again (or 15 times, as I have done with a handful of movies).  Do you ever watch re-runs?  Why?  You already know that's going to happen.  I'm not saying that plot isn't important. It is.  But I will persevere through a book or a movie that has a so-so plot but great characters.  I'm not sticking, however, with a book or a movie that has a fascinating plot but only so-so characters.  If I don't care about the characters, I really don't care what they do or what happens to them. I don't want to spend time with them.

     Of course, the best stories have BOTH compelling plots and engaging characters.  The Hobbit, for example. I read that book in a day and it had the whole package: great plot, fun settings, a comfortable narrator and a delightful main character as well as some interesting secondary characters. It is a fantastic adventure story--but when I re-read it, it's because I want to hang out with Bilbo.  I'm rather fond of his nephew as well.  The Lord of the Rings is at the top of my lists of the best fiction ever written. That book has so much to offer that I'd like to teach a course on it.  Still, while I can wax long about Tolkien's use of fictional historicity in the novel, about the effective and creative use of linguistics, the theologies, philosophies and themes presented in the novel and, of course, the magnificent plotting, the reason I read 1008 pages PLUS all the appendix information and then sought out every other book related to the novel (such as Lost Tales), is because of Frodo and Sam and a friendship so strong that it saved Middle Earth.  And it wasn't just Frodo and Sam; all of the characters were so well drawn that I loved them all.  Well, maybe not Gollum / Smeagal--but I've got to admit that he was intriguing and the story just wouldn't be the same without him.

     Which brings up a final point: a character doesn't have to be good to be a good character.  Darth Vader could hardly be labelled a "good guy," but he is a great character!  My favorite character from the Harry Potter series is Hermione Granger (who, of course, is good), but my second favorite character (wait for it) is Snape.  Even from Book One / Movie One I understood why Snape disliked Harry.  And while the Professor was sarcastic beyond necessity at times, Harry was arrogant and rude to him.  As a professor myself, I thought Snape showed amazing self-restraint in regards to Harry.  But the best thing about the character is his complexity.  Is he a villain? A hero? Both?  The question is not easy to answer and I will argue that Severus Snape is J.K. Rowlin's best written, most rounded and most intriguing character.  The same is true of the character of Morgana in the BBC series, Merlin.  While Morgan le Faye has come down through legend as the archetype of the villainess sorceress, the creators and writers of Merlin have made Morgana too real for black and white categories.  She has good reasons for what she does (although her methods may, at times, be questionable). And if you've watched the series from the beginning, you can't forget that you used to like her back when she was a compassionate advocate and protector of those who had no rights and / or were treated unjustly. And then she just had a lot of really bad stuff happen to her.  I mean, if a trusted friend tried to poison you, wouldn't you get a little angry?

     Since I love a great number of books and movies and have liked a t.v. series on occasion, this post could go on and on, but I'll stop with the above examples.  Now it's your turn.  Who are your all-time favorite characters and why?  Have you read or would you read a book if you didn't like ANY of the characters?  Have you re-read a book, re-watched a movie or t.v. show just because you enjoy being around the characters? (BTW, I watch Merlin episodes over and over because Merlin [the general one from Arthurian legend] is my all-time favorite character and Colin Morgan's and the BBC series' version of character is my all-time favorite Merlin).

     How important are characters to you? What are some of your favorite books, movies or t.v. series and how much do the characters affect your enjoyment or interest in the story?  Have you ever watched a t.v. series after the writing has gotten old, but you stuck with the series for another season just because you loved the characters?


  1. Favourite characters?? I have literally been thinking about this, on and off, for DAYS.
    I would say my favourite bad guy would be Magua, in Last of the Mohicans, brilliantly played by Wes Studi. When Magua is, you know, severing Uncas's spinal cord and removing his kidney, Studi barely bats an eye. The level of hate is so deep that it is other worldly. I was scared of Magua for years after that!!
    Best good guy/girl? The under rated Eomer in Return of the King. When he is hovering over his sister as she lays wounded, that was some fine acting. The eyes, oh my, she was all he had, and would she live?

  2. I read The Last of the Mohicans very quickly in college. I'm going to have to reread it now and look for that scene. Sounds pretty brutal--which is not normally my thing, but I need a context for it now.

    Eomer, huh? Interesting. I wouldn't have thought of him, but he is a definitely a good guy and he gets so little credit for his contribution to saving Middle Earth. But he seems okay with that. Yes, it's obvious that he loves his sister dearly (are they twins? It seems like it--Eomer and Eowen). Thankfully she lived. (She was a tough cookie!) But if it's eyes you're talking, I have to go with Elijah Woods' Frodo. Such expressive eyes! Then there is Colin Morgan playing the young Merlin. Have you watched that series? Mary Stewart's young Merlin from the novel THE CRYSTAL CAVE used to be my favorite character, but Colin Morgan's Merlin on the BBC series of the same name has usurped him. And now the series has ended because Bradley James, who plays King Arthur, has decided not to renew his contract. :( I never was a big fan of Arthur's. They could have killed him off and gone on with just Merlin. Oh, well! *Sigh*

  3. Haven't watched the MERLIN stuff, I'll go to BBC or Youtube and check it out.
    Don't read LOTM for the Magua scene, go to Youtube and search Last of the Mohicans, final scene.
    And the music? OH! The piece that is scored for that scene is called Promontory, amazing!!

  4. I'll check out LOTM on Youtube then. I'm looking forward to hearing the music. Promontory--sounds epic!

    There is TONS of Merlin stuff on Youtube. The series has ended on BBC as of December 24th, but it series 5 of the show just started on SyFy (if you get cable). But really, there is more than enough stuff on Youtube to get a sense of the series.

    Blessings! :)