What A Character… by Lynette Sowell

First, thank you, Vicki (and your cyber-elf), for setting up Christians Read. I’m excited to be part of a forum where we can talk books, books, and books. But what’s a book without characters that don’t follow us from the pages?

The USA Network’s slogan is pretty neat… Characters Welcome. Of course they put emphasis on quirky. This is why reality shows are so successful. We love vivid, real people living out slices of life (almost) without a script. Edited, of course, but you just never know what stunts people are going to pull. I believe that the characters we create as writers can leap off the page as vividly as the most memorable people we’ve known. For me, those very real characters include:

George Meister was a guy in a nursing home. My family met him when I was about twelve, when my parents decided to go visit the old folks. Our family had a friendship with him for several years. I remember him as wrinkled, gray, and round with a shelf full of books in his room. He lent me a book about the Dead Sea scrolls, not the typical preteen’s reading, but I wasn’t a typical pre-teen. We’d sit and talk about archaeology, too.

I think of my Great Uncle Enrico, who ran a restaurant for many years in South Hadley, Mass. His wife and three daughters helped him, and he always gave me a candy bar whenever I visited. I called him “The Candy Man” after I’d seen Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. After Uncle Enrico died, Aunt Cecile sold the place. His funeral was one of the largest South Hadley had ever seen at that time–everyone knew Caproni’s Luncheonette, and everyone knew Uncle Enrico.

Then there’s Jocie, who decided once she retired to go to the Philippines and start an orphanage. Just like that. When I met her while she was on furlough here in the States, I realized that retirement doesn’t mean retired, and poor in the world’s eyes doesn’t mean you can’t own beautiful things. She was an older single lady who ministered to this then-single lady and show her how life is only limited by us, that God doesn’t limit our calling.

I could go on about the characters who’ve drifted through and are still in my life (hey, I married a character!), but you get the idea. We see an image of someone, perhaps even without knowing anything about eye color or hair color or height. We automatically know what kind of food they’d like, their car, what they’re afraid of, and what makes them laugh out loud.

One of my favorite book characters from childhood is Meg Murry O’Keefe from Madeleine L’Engle’s time travel series. We first see her as a fumbling adolescent with glasses and braces, not knowing her place in the world, and later as a strong confident young woman with a baby on the way, and still doing battle against evil. The memory of her character sticks with me now, years later.

Then there’s Kristin Billerbeck’s Ashley Wilkes Stockingdale. Who can forget the patent lawyer fashionista? Kristin’s readers still clamor for more of Ashley, long after the series is over. And then there’s Rachel Hauck’s Caroline Sweeney in Sweet Carolina–who gets saddled with running a restaurant while her heart’s calling her away to her dream job.

What about you? Are there characters from fiction that months or years later after you’ve closed the book, still resonate with you?

Oh, and the photo of Mr. “I Voted?” Well, that’s the character I married. We go through our life’s story laughing, and what’s not to love about that?

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4 Responses to What A Character… by Lynette Sowell

  1. bethrachg says:

    Characters are the most important part of the story! Good post, Lynette. A character popped into my head while reading your post. I remember asking the Lord about characters as I tried to grow my writing, and while waiting at a stoplight, i looked over at the rusty decades old Ford truck sitting next to me. A wooden cross was propped up in the truck bed and Jesus saves and other spiritual slogans were painted all over it. The man sitting inside was an older man who sacked at the local grocery store and he was a hoot. I could swear I heard God say, “Now there’s a character!” I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

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  2. I love that character, Beth! And they don’t have to be over-the-top, either. There’s something about each one of us that’s special and vivid. I think that can carry over to book characters, too. For example, I’ve never forgotten Eustace Scrubb, either. Anyone who knows Narnia, knows Eustace!

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  3. Lynette,
    I enjoyed your post! I have often marveled how fiction writers are able to come up with their characters. As I read about some of yours, I pondered, “Are these real people with real lives?” Then I answered myself, “Oh, no she is describing her characters.” How amazing! I must read one of your books!
    Sarah Goebel
    http://www.sarahgoebel.com

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  4. juliearduini says:

    I’m one of those clamoring for more of Kristin’s Ashley. I remember finding a character when I got my brakes fixed. The owner cut himself and kept coming in the lobby bleeding. One time he had a dirty rag around it. When he came inside the last time he stopped the blood with duct tape, never missing a beat with his mechanic work. I thought, this has to go in my WIP. Characters, essential to every story!

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