Monday, March 22, 2010

Bonding with a Literary Character

Though writing is largely a solitary activity, the writer literally lives on an island, scrawling away on sheets, or, typing furiously, isolated from family and friends for long and painful stretches of time, it’s also one activity that connects writers with a vast number of people (readers) instantly.

Our books act as the bridge that link us to people who bring their unique sensibilities to our work. I agree with another writer who said “books like water will find their own level.” Books are open to interpretations any which way. The characters that we have nurtured inside our feverish minds find other dimensions when they meet the readers.

Different readers glean different nuggets of wisdom from a literary character/book, depending on their personal perception. Whatever the reason for the bond between book\protagonist and the reader, the important aspect is that an emotional connection has been forged. A literary kindred spirit discovered. A relationship formed. These connections between reader and character are the barometers of the real success of a book. Not the number of copies sold, nor the clutch of awards won. Readers after all are the best critics, and their appreciation the real award.

To create a literary character that firmly entrenches itself into a reader’s mind is an extremely difficult task. A memorable literary character must appeal to each and every sense of the reader, not just tug, but play with their heartstrings, seduce them away from the million and one things clamouring for their attention, entice them into the world woven by the writer. Memorable literary characters leave strong traces of their presence inside a reader’s mind long after the book has been devoured. In the history of books there have been several such characters: Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, Lata Mehra from Vikram Seth’s ‘ A Suitable Boy,’ Harry Potter to name just a few.

A character can achieve literary immortality if there is a strong sense of Empathy and Sympathy between the reader and the literary character. Because, when we empathize, or, sympathize with someone, albeit a literary character, concern for their well-being creeps in, a reluctant love develops. The warp and the weft of the reader’s life then entwines with the character’s. This ability of a character to attract the twin emotions mentioned earlier encourages the readers to be quasi participants rather than distant indifferent observers.

The character must invoke the feeling of oneness, there has to be a sense of similarity of experiences, similarity of emotions, of choices made, paths chosen, sacrifices done, between the reader and character. These aspects further cement the reader- character bond.

To create such characters is every writer’s dream. The character then becomes the voice of that generation of readers, a kind of a role model. There is a complete sense of identity between the reader and the literary character. “Hey that could be me, it’s is the story of my life,” the delighted reader nods his/her head. These characters are not only inspirational, they gently urge the readers to aspire for greater glories by acting as catalysts of change in the readers’ lives, and also, silently beckon the readers to visit them again and again.

Isn’t this a measure of a successfully created character? 


  1. As a fellow writer, I agree that it's the characters that remain with us and make a story memorable.

  2. I agree with you Elizabeth,some characters remain in our memory for a long time,silently beckoning us to revisit the books again and again.

  3. Hey Rachna! Great to see you blogging.

    The bonds I created as a child with the characters in the books I loved, have forever stayed with me. Like family members. And I read these books over and over. They give me comfort and great joy. Great post. =)

  4. Hey Robyn,I too derive great comfort and joy from the bonds I forged as a child with many characters. They do become like family members after some time.

  5. Your first post, and such a beautifully written and worthwhile one, Rachna! I'm trying to think which characters have been my friends, or at least my influences the longest... does it have to be human? If so, then Posy from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield was my first really solid bond. In fact, I loved all the characters in that series. All of them are about working hard for a goal, and accomplishing it (or at least getting on the road to achieving it), whether the goal was to be a ballet dancer, tennis player, ice skater or whatever. The characters had huge obstacles to overcome, but faced them bravely and resourcefully. They felt very real, very relatable.

    Of course, since then a host of more adult characters have jostled for attention in my 'favorite characters' treasure chest. Hamlet, House and Holmes... hmm, there seems to be an alliterative theme there... :)

  6. Hey Lia, you are the reason I am blogging.
    Many characters have been my friends too. Over the years the list has just grown bigger. These literary friends teach us as much as our real ones,they play a strong influence in our lives.

  7. The characters that we have nurtured inside our feverish minds find other dimensions when they meet the readers.

    This is something I really love to discover after people have read my work. When a beta-reader points it out, sometimes I'll go with it and pull it to the surface more during revisions, but then other times I'll leave it ambiguous so the readers can make up thier own mind. Its really fascinating to hear though.

    Great post!