Do you ever read a book and become irritated with one of the characters? I know I do. For example I might read about how a woman deals with her husband's affair, her mother's dementia, her child's tantrums, and think why on earth did she react like that? I might find her weak or vain, unimaginative or cruel, unfeeling or a whole host of other things, while another reader might identify with and approve of her actions and really enjoy the book.
None of this is very surprising because we all have different tastes and attitudes, but what I find fascinating is how a character in a book can generate real feelings of dislike and irritation, and I'm not talking about the anti-hero here. We are meant to be upset by him or her. No I'm talking about the main characters, the people who are pivotal to the story.
Some writers put a lot of thought into the development of their characters. With others it is more instinctive. Whichever method is used however, the writer is still responsible for their behaviour, and this is where life and fiction overlap.
Can a writer ever make the main characters do things they disapprove of? Will they let them behave in a way that is contrary to their own moral code? Are their heroes and heroines truly separate entities or are they who the writer is, or who she/he wants to be? And do I sometimes find a character irritating because their take on a problem isn't mine? It happens in real life, so why not in fiction? From time to time we all disagree with our friends and family, and we disagree even more vociferously with the behaviour of celebrities and politicians as reported in the Media, so when I dislike a character am I actually disliking the author's own views?
When I write is my heroine reacting as I would in such a situation, or is she behaving how I would like to behave but know I could never manage?
To better answer myself I've been revisiting the characters in some of my books and discovered that my heroines are hardworking, ambitious and feisty, and never ever prepared to accept second best. Are they me dressed in camouflage? I wish!! The truth is, they are my better self. They are the people I would like to be, and maybe that's fine. Better to recognise that than to never think about it at all.
In Mending Jodie's Heart: Book 1 of my When Paths Meet trilogy, Jodie is pint sized, braver than almost anyone I've ever met, and has a heart that puts everyone else first. She is the heroine I most admire. I'm proud of Jodie. She is who I would like to be.
Extract from Mending Jodie's Heart
The tall man in the wool beanie was leaning on the top bar of the gate on the third morning Jodie rode by. He was gazing into the straggle of woodland while a very old black Labrador sat patiently beside him. The man in the yellow fluorescent jacket, the man who had secured the padlock in the first place, was just getting into a van that was idling at the curb. With a twitch of the reins she pulled Buckmaster to a halt as he drove away.
“What did he tell you?” she demanded.
The man in the beanie hat swung around and stared up at her, a look of puzzlement on his face. He had very blue eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“Did he say how long it would be before they start building? Did he say how long it will be before Mr. Marcus…I can do exactly as I like because I have a lot of money and this is my land…Lewis, turns up? No he didn’t, did he? I can see from the look on your face that you’ve no idea what’s going on. I bet he didn’t even tell you when they’re going to start cutting down the trees.”
Without giving him time to answer, she slid down from Buckmaster’s back and walked across to the gate to stand beside him. Her head barely reached his shoulder. Together they surveyed the tangle of undergrowth, and then Jodie turned towards him, her body taut with impatience.
“Didn’t he tell you anything?”
“Not about the bridleway, no,” Marcus Lewis shook his head. He was torn between irritation, amusement, and just a little admiration. She was certainly passionate about her damned bridleway that was for sure. Courageous too. He could still remember what she had said about chaining herself to the gatepost.
“Why is this bridleway so important anyway?” he asked. “There must be others.”
“There are,” she conceded, looking up at him. “But we have to negotiate a lot of traffic to get to them. This is the only one that takes us straight down to the beach.”
“The children who use my riding school.”
“You work in a riding school?”
She nodded dispiritedly. “For what it’s worth I’m the manager, so I’ve a vested interest in keeping my riders safe.”
His gaze slid over her. It didn’t compute. She wasn’t much more than a teenager. As if she knew what he was thinking she suddenly grinned at him. It totally transformed her face, changing her expression from angry to something altogether different. He found himself responding with a smile of his own as he wondered if the hair hidden under her riding hat was as dark as her eyes.
“I’m older than I look,” she told him as she took hold of the horse’s saddle and vaulted onto its back. “Way, way older. Plenty old enough to give Marcus Lewis a piece of my mind when he eventually turns up. In the meantime, I’m going to start gathering protest signatures.”
“I thought you said you were going to chain yourself to the gate,” he said, squinting up at her against the early morning sun.
She laughed as she began to move away, pleased he had remembered. “Don’t worry. I’ll be doing that too, but not until the journalists arrive. I want to inflict maximum damage to his reputation.”
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