Real Characters

by Keith Biesiada

As people we are aware of our mortality and as writers we must acknowledge that awareness in order to widen our audience. Our characters are people or anthropomorphic creatures and as we can fall in love with other people or other creatures such as pets, we can also fall in love with our characters. This tendency may not always do justice to our stories, however.

My latest writing hero is Bernard Cornwell. As a historical novelist, Cornwell often leaves us with battlefields choked with death, with mutilated corpses mutilating a once idyllic landscape. Many of the characters lost to war were real personages who were earmarked to depart the historical record at that particular time and place. Others were the author’s creations for whom he may have had affection (not all, of course; every good story needs a villain), just as God has affection for all His creatures. Nonetheless, he cast them from a furtherance in his fiction because it suited the story that it be so. These are the difficult choices with which authors are often faced, but which they must make. Just as we elicit joy by bestowing favor on our characters so too must we elicit the sadness of their passing. Thus do we touch the full gamut of human emotions.

As writers we are the tyrants or the benefactors of our creation. It is a given that in the art of television, whenever a minor character evokes the sympathy or admiration of the audience he is usually undone after a few episodes so as not to distract from the main themes. In fiction we too have to move on from some of our characters. Only in fairy tales does everyone live happily ever after, but if we carry these stories past the stock closure we realize that a happy ending can only last so long.

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