Saturday, September 02, 2006

How readers see a character

On another forum, there has been a discussion about characters you would like to strangle. And two people mentioned Ligea from my Heart of the Mirage.

I created Ligea as a tough woman of 28 who was deliberately raised to be an instrument of revenge. I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but the idea for the character came from the tragedy of the Lost Generation of Australians, and the children of the Disappeared Ones of Argentina: in both cases, children were raised to reject their heritage - in fact, to despise their own origins in general, and in particular to be unaware of the specifics of it. As a mother myself, I found their fate utterly tragic.

One of my first readers made the comment that Ligea was not as bad as she thought she was, which was exactly what I was trying to achieve: someone who seems hard, uncaring, even brutal - and yet....
So I thought I had nailed it. I was heartened, too, when my UK editor remarked that he thought I did an excellent job with the evolution of Ligea. I thought I'd kept her sympathetic, by portraying a woman who had been dealt a tough hand by life.

And yet a couple of readers wanted to strangle her!

My point? Not everyone sees characters the same way as the author does, or as other readers do, any more than we all agree about real live people. Everyone brings their own preferences to the feast. I console myself with the thought that I wrote the character well enough to make readers exasperated enough to want to strangle her - in other words, she is real. No reader wants to strangle a cardboard character after all.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel about a fictional character. Once the book is released into the world, a writer loses control. Ligea is out there on her own, and you are free to feel however you want about her.

7 comments:

KarenEMiller said...

Oh no! Does that mean my characters are cardboard??? *ggg*

That was an odd one. I love Ligea, I think she's hugely sympathetic and doesn't prompt any urges towards violence.

Unlike Harlan Ellison, who has become a character in a very bad soap opera which needs to be cancelled sooner rather than later. Sigh.

Anghara said...

Glenda, do you realise you have posted no less than TWO absolutely perfect photos in the last two posts - perfect for the purpose of publicity, the same reason you were chasing portraits a while back? That one with you sitting there with a laptop by the ocean, that one's a beaut. Keep these, in case someone else wants pictures of you!

And I thought Ligea had strangleable moments, but those were precisely what made her a "real" character for me rather than something I found "in a book". In real life, there are precious few human beings whom you don't want to strangle at SOME time.

Glenda Larke said...

My daughter went berserk with the camera, Anghara! I have something like 20 shots I could use now ...

And I would love to meet Harlan Ellison. Is it really possible to be as awful as he seems?

bibliobibuli said...

this is great! i agree, i enjoy wanting to strangle characters!

i blogged about an argument i had with paul bailey about one of his characters here

Kanani said...

Nice insights, Glenda. And incredibly healthy, too.
I suppose that a well-fleshed character is like a person. Not everyone will like it, responses from strangulation to adoration means that you've got a character who has a range of human emotions!

Characters evolve. When I first started with mine, she was really flat. At some point... can't remember when... I understood the growth curve that she had to have. From point A to point B. And everything that happened had to influence her own evolution. It's been a challenge, and there are times when I want to shelve the whole thing.

But I know I can't.
Yours in the 2nd draft,
-K

Glenda Larke said...

Kanani - another odd thing I found out - just like real life, I suppose, was this: the reason one person wanted to strangle Ligea was the very reason that most people liked her. She's a hard woman in the beginning, then makes an utter fool of herself over a man (Yeah, well, which one of us hasn't been there, eh?). This particular reader felt she had let the side down...

Anonymous said...

That's what I don't understand either.. what is it that makes women make fools of themselves over men ?