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?