I just finished reading a wonderful book by Rebecca Cantrell. Actually, I read the first two books in her Hannah Vogel series, A Trace of Smoke and A Night of Long Knives. (Sorry for raving so much on Twitter, Rebecca. I’m not stalking you, I promise!) I took a break from writing and devoured these books, becoming engrossed in the story and characters. This made me think…why did I love these books so much? What was it about them that made me want to jump into the second book so quickly?
Have you ever felt that way about a book? You wish you knew the characters, could sit down and talk with them, or even talk to the author and ask why they created that character in that way? I’ve been asking myself these questions mainly because I believe, as writers, we have to create compelling, interesting characters before anything else. A great story without intriguing characters is worthless. If your reader doesn’t care about your main character, or doesn’t feel compelled to turn the page, it’s a bust.
So, in analyzing these books I’ve come to the conclusion that Cantrell’s characters are flawed. They all seem to have a sense of loss and confusion at some time and I felt compassion and sympathy for them. Even those who were truly evil and nasty became a little likable at times. So much so that I hated myself for actually feeling sorry for them. The main character, Hannah, is at times strong and fearless, but is always a “real” person who makes mistakes, says the wrong thing and frustrates the reader by not making the obvious choices. But would we want it any other way? Nobody likes a predictable character.
I hope to create compelling and interesting characters as Cantrell has done. It’s not easy, as any writer will tell you. Characters create themselves on many levels, but as the writer we must create someone who will inspire, intrigue and fascinate readers. Once that’s accomplished, that character has to be in the right time period and place in order to make it work. These books take place in Berlin just before Hitler’s rise to ultimate power. It’s a perfect setting for the book and for the characters.
I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment in the series (which I will have to wait much too long for) and applaud the author’s talent at creating the characters and time period so beautifully.
What are you reading and why do you like it so much? Use this knowledge and apply it to your own writing. I’m not saying that you should copy any writer, but most definitely you can learn by observing what the author did to create such a great story/character/etc.