You know those characters who really get under your skin and into your brain? They are the ones who stay with you far beyond the last chapter of the book you are working on, the ones who you find yourself thinking about in the middle of the day as if they are real, flesh and blood people going about their lives at that very second, and the ones whose writers you stalk to see if he or she will give you just a little bit more information. I know this doesn’t just happen to me.
I have found two factors that have a strong influence on whether a character stays with me. 1. Common traits that I share with the character. 2. Duration of time and level of immersion I have in her world. Let me break these things down for you in a few examples.
Lena in Lead one of the Stage Dive books by Kylie Scott
This book opens with the scene of a curvy, tell-it-like-it-is and take-no-shit woman being confronted by a boy band who is trying to recruit her as a sobriety companion for its lead singer, whose demeanor is anything but thrilled. (Side note, one of the things I love about these novels by Kylie Scott is the intertwined nature of the storylines. This is the third in the series, however, the books weave in and out of these time elements while simultaneously moving forward in a linear way and it blows my writer mind.) Never have I ever, especially in the chick lit genre, seen myself in a character as much as in Lena. As her personality continues to emerge, her willingness to do for others, even to her own detriment, her strong, courageous exterior with a wobbly, soft inner monologue and an instance where she reflexively put herself between someone she loved and someone who wanted to harm him, I just sunk deeper. I read this book voraciously in only a few sittings, fully emerging myself into Lena’s world. And then I read the fourth book, not because I was interested in the storyline, but to find out more about Lena because I missed her.
Diana in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
Diana spends most of her time, at least in the first book, in a library examining ancient texts on alchemy at the University of Oxford. I don’t think I need to explain much further the commonalities that I found with Diana to you all! Her bookish nature, her thirst for more knowledge and how she pushes herself to accomplish her to-do list, check, check, check, I relate to all of those things. (I also very much enjoy travel and can’t wait to see that I have actually been to the University of Oxford someday.) Add in that she is a witch, descended from the Bishop family from U.S. history and Harkness had all of the right ingredients to create a personal addiction for me. I tore through this series, finishing all three books in seven weeks, if the dates on my Goodreads account are to be trusted, which I doubt. It looks like I reliably scanned for the first book A Discovery of Witches, which I started on June 3 and was finished by June 17. Quite frankly, I still find myself thinking about Diana and what she’s up to, and I read the books last summer! I remember sorely missing the characters of these books for a good period of time after completing the third book. It was in that, slightly unreasonable mourning period, that I started to ponder my, at times, unhealthy attachment to characters in the books I read.
Camille in Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Speaking of unhealthy attachment, we have Camille Preaker. I share Camille’s name (it is my middle name) and a profession. My mother bought this book for me when we went to the bookstore on my birthday and I had to have it just based on this knowledge and having already read Gone Girl. My similarities with Camille end there, but I argue that her flaws make her relatable. So few times do we read books that have such dynamic, true-to-life characters who don’t have it all together, don’t pretend to and are just doing the best they can. I did not read this book quickly, it’s on the shorter side but, as those of you who may be watching the HBO miniseries unfold over the next few weeks will see, it’s dense with layers of information. I have not re-read it yet either, though I really want to now that said series is dangling the storyline from week-to-week on me, but I often think of this story and of Camille in those times where life just doesn’t make sense and where I feel like I’m just doing the best that I can.
Alright, your turn! Please comment with a character who stayed with you long after you closed the book. And, maybe take a guess at why you think he or she got under your skin.