Top Ten Character-driven books

This week’s TTT is top ten character driven books and is, as always, hosted by the delightful The Broke and the Bookish.

I love Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m seriously struggling not to repeat myself. This is a really special one for me, because as anyone who reads my blog will know, I LOVE characters. I think they make or break a story.

So here I go:

1) GOT – I talk about this every bloody week so I don’t need to say anymore. Love you George. a-game-of-thrones-the-story-continues-the-complete-box-set-of-all-7-books

2) On Beauty – Zadie Smith. This is writing back to Howard’s End by Forster. You don’t need to read Howard’s End to enjoy it (in fact I would recommend never reading Howard’s End). Smith is a character master. They’re the most vibrant characters and she explores fantastic themes of race, academia, and of course, beauty.

3) Sherlock Holmes – A.C. Doyle. I think with any eponymous novel there is certain necessity that the work is character driven but I think we can all agree Holmes’s is very interesting. Watson too. Irene and Moriarty? In the original they’re not that fascinating. In fact, they’re barely in it.

4) One Day – David Nicholls. Again, I know, I talk about this every week. But it’s one of my faves and you can’t talk about characters without talking about Dexter and Emma, after all, it’s the story of their lives.

51pSErJc3oL5) The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon. This story is all about the mystery of the characters, the plot moves slowly at time but the reveal is worth it.

6) World War Z – Max Brooks. There is no real plot to this book, no characters as such either. But I wanted to include it because the book consists of a series of interviews and they just feel so alive. Brooks really captured lots of different voices which I loved.

7) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I think Atticus Finch may be one of my favourite ever characters. Reading through a growing child’s eyes took some amazing talent on Lee’s behalf. It’s a wonderful story about people.

8) The Hours – Michael Cunningham. This is the story of three women, in three different times. Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It explores themes of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (except in a readable not modernist way). This is not a happy book but it is a very interesting one.

9) Where Rainbows End – Cecilia Ahern. I have a real soft spot for this book. Ignoring the logic issues of this book, it’s just lovely. CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndThe whole thing is written in letters, emails etc over the lives of two people who love each other but always seem to just miss each other. Heartbreaking. Lovely. Read it in a day.

10) The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric. I go on a lot about this one too … but it’s great. So many different voices tell the story. There’s the mad Minguillo, the madder nun, the lovely doctor, the battered heroine. Ah it’s amazing. Read it immediately.
What about you? What’s your TTT?

What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

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To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?

 

The Game of Thrones Bandwagon

You’ve hooked me George, I’m right on board. This is a series I couldn’t help but want to review.

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I accidentally started watching GOT this year. It just happened to be on while I was in the living room and I found myself asking all the ‘who’s, why’s and what’s’ that come with starting something 4 seasons in. It wasn’t a love at first sight thing. The story and the characters gradually drew me in.

If it hadn’t happened to have been on and a friend hadn’t told me how much he was enjoying the books, I probably never would have bothered with the books at all … and I would have seriously missed out.

George R R Martin is an artist. He’s created the most amazing world, filled with the most brilliant collection of characters. The sheer breadth and depth of his work deserves a round of applause and absolutely all of the acclaim it has received.

The basis for the story (if you’ve been hiding under a rock) is about the power struggles of a fictional land, ruled by a King and governed by lords. Oh and there’s a big wall protecting the realm from the wild and that’s guarded by a band of warriors (they’re a bit like fighting monks). It would take me too long to do a proper summary of all five books. So instead, I’m going to tell you what I liked about it and why you should definitely read it.

1) He is an excellent writer. This point should never be overlooked. His words flow off the page with ease, the subject matter can get heavy but the words will never weigh you down.

2) The characters are like proper people. No character is truly all bad or all good, they have both good and bad parts to their personalities. His characters are the most vital part of the story, each chapter is told by a different character and you find yourself sympathising with them. The problem is, that when you’re favourite character belongs to the wrong cause, well, you don’t know who to side with then. There are so many protagonists and antagonists that your allegiances are constantly changing.

3) He roots the story in a past. Readers enter into the story at the end of a long summer, but throughout the novels you’re taught about the background of the land and it’s history. It’s a lot like reading about Alfred the Great, Ethelred the Unready etc. It also deals with the more immediate past and you get to know the background of the characters pretty thoroughly. (And there are some pretty big mysteries there that come out sooner or later!)

4) You’re always guessing. There’s too much going on to know who’s going to end up on the throne at the end of it. Sometimes I see the twists coming and other times I don’t. Just when I think I’ve figured it out a new plot emerges. I have an inkling who will be important, but how they will be important is a complete mystery- and I love that!

5) It’s not romanticised. A lot of this story is about war. With war comes death, rape and torture. Death is bloody and gruesome with faeces, torture is toe-curdling to think about, and rape is no big deal. War isn’t heroic, it’s awful. And when the ‘good’ cause are doing all the things the ‘evil’ cause are doing, you’re left wondering if one is ever better than the other.

I could go on and on and on about how much I’ve loved this series, but what I really think you should do is read it for yourself 🙂