Monday, October 13, 2008

Larger-than-life characters

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm reading Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel. I've just started his chapter on characters.

Characters can make or break a story. I think we all know that. I've read books in which the plot was circuitous. The writing needed a bit more polish. But the characters! Oh, the characters! I loved them. I wanted to know what they would do next. I wanted to make sure they'd be OK. I couldn't put the book down because of the characters. And years later, I still remember them.

Years ago, I attended a seminar by a multi-published, award-winning author. She said successful authors create characters who are "larger than life." I'd heard the term before, but I still didn't understand what it meant. What exactly were larger-than-life characters?

After the seminar, I popped a movie into my VCR and climbed onto my treadmill to exercise. The movie was Frequency starring Denis Quaid and James Caviezel. Have you seen it? The Aurora Borealis creates a rift in time that allows a police officer son in the present (Caviezel) to communicate with his now-deceased firefighter father 30 years in the past (Quaid). The son helps his father stop the serial killer who kills his mother in the past.

Are you still with me?

OK. While on the treadmill, I watched the scene in which the serial killer chases Quaid's character. That's when it hit me. Larger-than-life-characters are ordinary people driven to extraordinary behavior in desperate situations. Like Quaid's character who needs to stop a serial killer before he kills his wife.

Maas uses as an example of a larger-than-life-character James Patterson's Alex Cross. His moral compass and determination to do the right thing lifts him from ordinary to extraordinary - or larger than life.

Bringing this a bit closer to home, Angela's Kendra Clayton series takes an ordinary heroine who's driven to extraordinary behavior to save her friends and family.

In On Fire, my romantic suspense, a newspaper reporter needs to find the real arsonist to prove her lover's innocence.

Can you share examples of larger-than-life characters with us?



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