I don’t know if you’ve heard me say this before, but just in case, this is my number one ambition as a writer: to have a character who lives. One who lives so well that you know the character, even if you don’t know me. You know what I’m talking about. Those books where you talk about the character like they are a person and the author seldom comes up. The essence of being a fan.
I’ve read a lot of very worthy books over the years by many excellent writers. Having a character who lives (to me) beyond the scope of the book is not the only hallmark of excellent work, but since this is my ultimate goal creatively, I thought I would talk about some of the characters (and the people who have written them) who have made me want this goal. These characters will span 51 years of reading. Some of them are new to me, and some have been with me a very long time.
Currently, I am reading another of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant mysteries: Whispers Underground. Peter Grant is a living character. Living characters do not have to be written in first person, but Peter is. He has a good sense of humor. I know about his family, what he thinks about his job, how he feels about his friends, and I have some pretty good guesses on how he spends his spare time. I’ve seen him cool under pressure, quick to investigate, and heartbroken about love gone wrong. He feels real to me.
Of course, all that depth to Peter is supported by good story. The initial book of Peter’s series Midnight Riot is uniquely British, which appeals to me as a half-British kid. Peter is protagonist of color, a white jazzman from England for a dad and a black cleaning woman from Sierra Leone for a mom. The hybridization of these cultures, as well as his familial legacy, resounds in almost every decision Peter makes. While Midnight Riot depends on plot and introduces Peter, in Moon Over Soho Peter becomes resoundingly a character who breathes, as we see him deal with the aftermath of something terrible that happens to his friend Leslie in the first book, we see him work with his new abilities, and we see him fall in love. And now, as I read Whispers Underground I see Peter grow and become even more.
The best part of a series sometimes is that a writer does have the opportunity to make a character familiar and alive, and while it can also be done in a single book, still that leisure to explore is, I think, one of the best ways to create a memorable character.
In two weeks: Enola Holmes.