Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A "Live" Character

How do you learn to breathe life into a character? I am reading the masters, most recently, Isabel Allende's "Eva Luna" and two novellas by Edith Wharton, "The Bunner Sisters" and "Summer."

Allende creates a sensuous account of a young woman who matures during the Latin American struggles of the 60's and 70's. A storyteller, Eva Luna lives in a canvas that might have been painted by Frieda Kahlo, a canvas dripping with color and lush scenery. Each character in Eva's life is more exotic than the next, each scene more unbelievable. Yet the reader never loses sight of Eva and her response to every ludicrous situation. You couldn't cut a sentence without tearing the tightly woven fabric of Allende's tale.

Far more restrained, Wharton's novellas take place on Cassat-like canvases with their women in dove gray dresses, or perhaps faded pink. Unlike Allende's multitude of characters, few customers cross the threshold of the Bonner sisters' shop. At the end of the novella, only one sister is left to battle loneliness and penury in her twice-turned faded black silk. The reader wants to reach out and take her hand. In "Summer," descriptions of the fragrant New England meadows and the hurly-burley of its small towns never once draw us away from feisty Charity Royall, consumed by turmoil and anguish as her story unfolds.

I have learned I must interpret my protagonist from the inside out rather than by simply describing her and her actions. Only then will she keep the reader interested.


  1. Linda,
    Love your descriptions of writing styles! Freida Kahlo vs. Mary Cassat makes the contrast clear.
    I'm a fan of what you call the Cassat style - fewer characters with understated setting and prose.
    Guess it's the New England in me.

  2. What is it we always tell our kids? Actions speak louder than words. Same holds true for characters. Their actions speak volumes.

  3. Linda, I love how you stated it. Interpreting our characters "from the inside out" is key. As long as I keep focusing on my characters and their responses to the situation, I think I am headed in the right direction. (And Gale- funny, I think I tend to gravitate toward the exotic characters and wacky situations, all the while trying to make them real. Right now, I am loving re-reading Roald Dahl books. Absolutely adore his crazy, larger than life characters, settings and situations.)